Gladiators control first half but Jags outlast Italy for the win

Image: When the QB speaks, teammates listen: Italy Gladiator senior quarterback Tyler Anderson(11) relays the play into the huddle with Italy’s offense looking for answers in the second half against Hubbard.

When the QB speaks, teammates listen: Italy Gladiator senior quarterback Tyler Anderson(11) relays the play into the huddle with Italy’s offense looking for answers in the second half against Hubbard. (Barry Byers)

Hubbard — The Italy Gladiators (1-3) were led by QB/RB TaMarcus Sheppard in what players have since referred to as the, “Mud Bowl,” thanks to monsoon like rains leading up to Friday night’s game in Hubbard. Sheppard, who finished with 143 yards rushing to surpass the 100 yard mark for the second game in a row, exploded out of the gate when he sprinted 67 yards on his first carry to spot Italy inside the 20-yard line of the Jaguars.

Unfortunately for Italy, a sack three plays later resulted in a fumble recovery by the Jag’s defense to spoil the opening drive by the Gladiators. Hubbard’s offense began it’s first possession from their own 25-yard line but was forced to punt from their own twenty-two. However, Italy mishandled the kick and the Jags recovered at the Gladiator 33-yard line to flip-flop field position in a snap.

On 3rd down, Hubbard broke thru with defensive tackle Darol Mayberry making a touchdown saving tackle from behind at the 19-yard line. Tackles by Sheppard, John Byers and inside linebacker Shad Newman brought up 4th down for the Jags who opted to try and run for the 1st down. Defensive end Kevin Roldan made the stop across the line-of-scrimmage to help Italy overcome the botched special teams play to start again from their own sixteen.

Sheppard was the featured back but a keeper by quarterback Tyler Anderson came up short of a the first down causing Italy to punt it away with Sheppard doing the honors. The 23 yard punt by Sheppard was downed by teammate Cody Boyd at the Hubbard 44-yard line.

Sheppard made the tackle at the line of scrimmage for 2nd and long. Hubbard ran a QB keeper to Italy’s 46-yard line and then took off for the end zone on the next play. With Hubbard threatening, safety Ryan Connor made a touchdown saving tackle at Italy’s 30-yard line to end the first-quarter with goose eggs still showing on the scoreboard.

To start the second-quarter, defensive end Zain Byers makes his presence known with a tackle for a 5 yard loss and with Sheppard adding a hard hit to the end of the play for good measure. On the following play, outside linebacker Hunter Merimon combines with safety Tre Robertson who both react to a quick-pass attempt by Hubbard for a loss back to the 39-yard line. Hubbard then tries the air but first pass overshoots the target. Zain Byers hurries the Hubbard quarterback on the next play by hitting the QBs arm to disrupt his throwing motion. Boyd nearly picks the pass off but at least knocks down for another incomplete pass as Italy takes over on downs at their 39-yard line.

Italy’s first couple of plays do little and a pass completion from Anderson to McBride gains only half the needed yards for a first down so Italy punts back to Hubbard. Long snapper, Kyle Fortenberry, hustles down to kill the ball at the Jaguar 14-yard line.

Zain Byers pens Hubbard even further back when he finally dive tackles the Jag quarterback back at the 5-yard line. Hubbard fumbles the snap on the next play with Italy’s Mayberry having the best shot at it but unable to come away with it. With Hubbard going nowhere, they decide to punt. Tackle John Byers nearly blocks the kick as the 280 pounder came flying through the air but the kick clears the junior’s fingertips and the ball is consequently downed at the Hubbard thirty-seven.

Anderson hands off to Sheppard who follows the blocking of Roldan and Zain Byers to help him chew up the 37-yards needed to score and gives Italy a 6-0 lead, stunning the Hubbard faithful. Roldan also adds the point-after kick to increase Italy’s lead, 7-0.

Roldan kicks the ball back to Hubbard who begin at their own 38-yard line. Zain Byers makes the first tackle and then Roldan makes a tackle for a loss. Hubbard opts for another deep pass and Robertson momentarily has the ball in his grasp but loses the handle after the receiver runs into him. Hubbard punts it back to Italy who start from their own 26-yard line.

Three runs attempts in the mud by Sheppard fail to generate anything positive for Italy who then returns the punt with Sheppard doing the job. With the first half nearing the end, Hubbard takes over at Italy’s 47-yard line. Shad Newman and Connor combine for the stop at the forty-three. Fortenberry then scrapes to make the tackle from his linebacker position at Italy’s 33-yard line. On the next play, Hubbard passes deep to an open receiver for a 33 yard strike in the drizzle for a Jag touchdown. The conversion pass is off the mark and Italy holds on to a 1-point lead, 7-6, going into the half.

Roldan kicks off to start the third-quarter with Levi McBride getting his hands on it beyond 10-yards but was unable to hang onto it before the perfect kick rolled out of bounds. As a result, Hubbard begins their second half attack from their own forty-three. Sheppard and John Byers get things going for Italy’s defense when they combine for a quick tackle. Sheppard makes another tackle to force a 3rd-and-long so the Jags pass deep but the pass sails over the intended receiver’s head to bring up 4th-down. Hubbard’s resulting punt results in a touchback after continuing into the end zone.

From their own twenty, Italy’s offense tries to get things rolling on the bogged down field but when a 1st down pass from Anderson to Robertson is erased by a penalty, Italy again punts it away. Unfortunately, the kick goes off the side of Sheppard’s foot for a net of just 10-yards which leaves Hubbard knocking on the door to Italy’s end zone at the Gladiator 37-yard line.

Immediately, Connor has to make a touchdown saving tackle for Italy at the twenty-one. Zain Byers fights off blockers to make the stop and then Connor again has to pull down a Jag before he can reach the end zone. Newman, John Byers and Mayberry force a 2nd-and-goal at the 1-yard line and then a false start backs Hubbard to the six.

On the next play however, the Gladiator defense over pursues a Hubbard’s runner who cuts back against the treacherous grain to power in for the second Jaguar touchdown of the game and the lead, 12-7 with 3:41 to play in the third. Zain Byers comes down the line to make first contact and then Shad Newman wins the fight at the goal line to foil Hubbard’s 2-point conversion run attempt and the score remains 12-7.

Hubbard kicks off but middle blocker John Byers, who showed off his baseball fielding skills, scooped up the wicked grounder to preserve descent field position for Italy at their own 47-yard line. With Italy on offense, Merimon makes a hard, twisting run but only manufactures 1 yard on the try. Italy then begins to move backwards which results in a punt by Roldan with Hubbard taking over at their 41-yard line.

Mayberry and Byers make another stop against Hubbard’s middle running game. Roldan tries to apply pressure to the passer from his defensive end position to help force another overthrow by the Jags, 3rd-and-long. Fortenberry makes the tackle but not before Hubbard gains enough yards for the 1st down to end the third-quarter with momentum on their side.

After Hubbard gains another first down after three carries to start the fourth, John Byers makes the tackle in Hubbard’s backfield for a short loss. Outside linebacker Justin Wood greets Hubbard in the hole to make the tackle with help from Colin Newman at Italy’s thirty-three. John Byers then cuts the legs out from a Jag runner to bring up fourth-and-short. Hubbard tries to run it at Italy’s Zain Byers but the senior crashes Hubbard’s tight end into the backfield and wraps up the Jag quarterback as fellow senior Shad Newman flies in and delivers a hard hit that forces Hubbard to turn the ball over on downs. The Gladiators regain control at their own 30-yard line.

Unfortunately, Italy’s offense is stifled by the Jag defense and Roldan punts the ball back to Hubbard, yet again. Hubbard begins at their own 30-yard line and picks up a 1st down on their first carry before Merimon can make the stop after 13-yards. Shad Newman makes another tackle for Italy but the Jags gain 4-yards to the forty-seven. Zain Byers then blows up the Jaguar backfield to cause a fumble but the Jags recover before being tackled in the backfield by Merimon.

From their own 43-yard line, Hubbard finally adds to their fragile lead when the Jag QB runs left, survives a hit from Newman and then keeps churning up mud all the way to the end zone 57-yards away. The effort gives the Jags an 18-7 lead who dive over for the conversion to go up 20-7 with 4:00 remaining.

Anderson returns the ensuing kickoff to the Italy 39-yard line behind key blocks from Robertson and Boyd. A long run by Sheppard and a completion between Robertson and Anderson help move the ball across midfield but Italy’s drive eventually stalls as Hubbard finishes off the game with a couple of kneel downs.

Bad weather games are always fun to watch but not easy to play in. Italy fans were real proud of the effort by their Gladiators this past Friday night who will now enjoy a bye-week before battling Hico at home on Friday, October 4, starting at 7:30 p.m. at Willis Field.


Gladiator Carries Rush YDS REC Rec YDS Pass Comp/YDS TD Pass TD
Merimon 1 1
Newman 2 13
Robertson 1 7 4/5 26
Sheppard 16 143 0/1 0/1/0 1(Rushing)
Anderson 10 5 0/1 5/9/31
McBride 1/2 5


Gladiator Tackles Assists TFL FF FR QBH
McBride 1
Robertson 2 2
Wood 1
Merimon 5 2
Sheppard 4 2
Boyd 2 1
Connor 5 1
S. Newman 5 4
Z. Byers 10 1 2 1 1
J. Byers 4 3
Mayberry 2
Roldan 2 2 2
Fortenberry 3 1
C. Newman 1


Gladiator Punted/YDS PAT PR KO Return/YDS Points
Sheppard 4/127
Roldan 2/67 1/1 1
Robertson 1/20
Anderson 1/35

Tindol’s Trophies:

  • Special Teams MVP — Kevin Roldan
  • Offensive Line — Darol Mayberry
  • Offensive MVP — TaMarcus Sheppard
  • Defensive Line — John Byers
  • Defensive MVP — Zain Byers
  • Hard Hitter — Shad Newman
  • Hard Hitter — Zain Byers
  • Overall MVP — TaMarcus Sheppard
  • Top Teammate (practice and game) — Shad Newman

Special thanks to our fans, the band and the cheerleaders for displaying school pride and team spirit throughout the game and in the constant drizzle!

Go Italy!