Itasca’s mascot is a mythical cat but Italy’s 46-6 win was no illusion

Image: Shad Newman(25), Kevin Roldan(60) and TaMarcus Sheppard(10) lead Italy into district battle against the Itasca Wampus Cats.

Shad Newman(25), Kevin Roldan(60) and TaMarcus Sheppard(10) lead Italy into district battle against the Itasca Wampus Cats. (Barry Byers)

Itasca — Determined to get back into the win column, the Italy Gladiators (2-4,1-0) hit the field running in their district opener to storm past the and Itasca Wampus Cats for a lopsided 46-6 victory.

Gladiator quarterback TaMarcus Sheppard made the most of his return to Itasca where he played running back last season. First-year head coach Charles Tindol gets his second win as the Gladiator in charge. And Gladiator Nation had plenty to cheer about with their team looking primed for another run at the district title.

To start the game, Sheppard led Italy on a 5 play opening drive that featured a 36-yard run from Hunter Merimon and culminating in a Shad Newman touchdown from 14-yards out, Newman’s first of the season. The point-after kick sailed right but Italy took the early lead, 6-0. Kevin Roldan then kicked off to the Cats who hoped to keep pace with the Gladiators but 2 plays in, junior cornerback Cody Boyd intercepted Itasca’s first pass attempt to give Italy good field position near midfield.

Italy scored quicky, yet again, when Sheppard rolled right and found Levi McBride for a 26-yard pass completion to the 2-yard line of Itasca. McBride’s highlight reel catch in tight coverage setup a 2-yard middle plunge by Sheppard behind center Kyle Fortenberry and lead back Shad Newman for the 2-point conversion, Italy led 14-0.

Itasca’s offensive woes continued with linebackers Newman, Coby Bland, Fortenberry, Sheppard, Merimon, along with safeties Trevon Robertson and Ryan Connor keeping the Cats from turning a big play. The Cats’ punted the ball back over to Italy who immediately went back to work.

Bland slipped thru a tackle to race 60-yards down Italy’s sideline with Itasca getting away with a “horse-collar” to keep Bland from reaching the end zone. With under a minute to play in the first-quarter, however, Sheppard handed off to Bland again who zipped in untouched to give Italy a 20-0 lead from 6-yards out.

Roldan kicked off to the Cats and then Boyd ended the first-quarter with a hard hit downfield on defense to keep Itasca in check. Italy’s defense manages to force Itasca to punt but the Gladiators were stripped of the ball inside their 20-yard line on the return. The Cats recovered the ball and were in good position to put points on the board.

Bland blasts into Itasca’s backfield to slam the Cats for a loss. Next, Zain Byers penetrates into the backfield and collides with a Cat back to make a tackle for a loss. Moments later on 4th-and-goal, the Cats scored on an 8-yard pass to make the score 20-6 with 8:45 remaining in the second-quarter. Bland, Newman and Sheppard combine for a stop in the backfield to nullify Itasca’s 2-point conversion attempt.

One minute later, after a Newman carry for positive yards, Italy’s left offensive tackle Cody Medrano seals the edge to give Sheppard a running lane. Sheppard does the rest after avoiding a tackler on his way to a 53-yard touchdown run. With Kyle Fortenberry snapping and Tyler Anderson holding, Roldan boots thru the bonus point to extend Italy’s advantage 33-6.

After another Roldan kick off, Bailey Walton, John Byers, Colin Newman and Zain Byers makeup Italy’s defensive front. Zain Byers reaches Itasca’s QB and manhandles the Wampus Cat passer to the ground for a loss. Zain Byers forces Itasca’s QB to tuck and run on the next play but Walton and Colin Newman make sure the elusive Cat doesn’t get far. Itasca tries a quick pass to the opposite side of the field but Zain Byers tracks down the receiver to force a punt by the Wampus Cats.

Sheppard gains yards on a run but then misfires on a pass intended for receiver Clayton Miller. On 3rd down, Sheppard does hit Robertson who gets blocks from Shad Newman and Medrano to help him elude diving tacklers on his way to a 36-yard catch-and-run touchdown. The conversion was no good but the Gladiators took a commanding 33-6 lead.

Itasca receives Roldan’s kickoff with Italy’s Miller making the tackle on the return. Walton and Bland team up to stop the Cats on a middle run. Zain Byers and Colin Newman force a Cat runner to cut back inside where John Byers and Shad Newman combine for the tackle at the line-of-scrimmage. The Cats complete a pass but Robertson makes the tackle for a minimal gain. Walton brings down another runner on the inside and then Zain Byers sacks the Cat QB and puts his hat on the ball to knock it loose. Itasca recovers the ball but punts it away.

With 0:36 left in the half, Sheppard rolls out and finds Robertson open downfield halfway to the end zone. Robertson makes the catch and then follows Levi McBride down inside the 5-yard line for 57-yard gain. Italy tries four pass plays but turn the ball over on downs back at the 6-yard line. Satisfied with the goal line stand, Itasca takes a knee to end the half.

During the break, the Gladiator Regiment Band and Color Guard was right on form as they had one last dress rehearsal before their USSBA Groesbeck Showcase Marching Competition that began Saturday. Drum majors Alexis Sampley and Emily Stiles split time on the podium as their troops executed perfectly and the girls in the guard Anna Riddle, Kylee Dabney, Sarah Burrow, Jennifer McDaniel and Kayla Cunningham highlighted the presentation with elaborate flag routines and brilliant smiles.

Brass captain, Madison Washington, was featured along with, Eli Garcia, during an attention grabbing rendition of taps on their trumpets while snare captain, Whitney Wolaver, was joined by Brenya Williams and Alex Minton playing tenor, drummed flawlessly for Itasca’s fans. The band’s bass drum trio of Noah Ramirez, Stockard Smithwick and Austin Crawford commanded attention, as well as, the front ensemble group of Reagan Adams on the marimba, Jacob “Stanley” Brooks on the vibraphone, Blake Brewer who always sets the mood on the timpani, Lorena Rodriguez who handles the rack accessories such as the tamborine and Elliot Worsham on the triangle and gongs.

In fact, every band member should be proud of what they have accomplished thus far. Congratulations to directors Jesus Perez and David Graves and color guard coach Amber Droll whose efforts have the band on the march for glory!

Roldan kicks off and Cody Boyd makes a hard tackle with help from Miller who rides Itasca out-of-bounds at the 39-yard line of the Cats. Zain Byers trips up a Cat runner for a short gain. From his inside tackle position, John Byers grabs the next runner by a foot and then gets help from a group of Gladiators to bring the Cat down. Zain Byers puts pressure on the pocket to force an incomplete pass as the Cats punts after their first possesion of the second-half.

Hunter Merimon runs hard but runs into a couple of Cats for a short gain up the gut. Sheppard takes off on the following play and doesn’t stop until he reaches the end zone for his second touchdown of the game on a 64-yard effort. Roldan kicks thru the P.A.T. to give Italy a 40-6 lead.

Roldan kicks it off and McBride gets help from Coby Bland to pen Itasca deep. Walton pulls down Itasca for a loss from his defensive end position keeping the Cats bogged down. Two plays later, Itasca passes for the 1st down. After Shad Newman makes the stop to bring up 3nd-and-long, Zain Byers hurries an incomplete pass to force the Cats to punt again with 6:38 left in the third-quarter.

Strong runs by Shad Newman and Anderson advance the ball all the wall to Itasca’s 1-yard line. A miscue by Italy turns the ball over but the Cats were now forced to work out of their own end zone at the 2:53 mark. Itasca gets to the 6-yard line with Connor and Robertson combining for the stop. Bland makes the tackle on the next play and then John Byers and Robertson bring down Itasca’s quarterback after a short gain to bring an end to the quarter.

Itasca continues to drive but a timely tackle by Bland forces another Itasca punt with Anderson returning the kick out to Italy’s 20-yard line. Anderson leads the Gladiator offense back across midfield and to the 29-yard line of the Cats. Anderson then passes to McBride who catches and then carries the ball inside the twenty. From 10-yards out, Anderson connects with McBride again for another Italy touchdown. The point-after kick doesn’t count but Italy leads 46-6 with 3:36 remaining.

Itasca’s next drive was one of their best of the night until Miller picked off a Wampus Cat pass attempt to ruin the home team’s drive. The sophomore cover man picked up a couple of yards on the return and then was swarmed by teammates to celebrate his success.

The game wrapped up shortly afterwards as proud supporters Brandon Connor and Jack Hernandez took a victory lap on behalf of the team with Italy Gladiator flags in hand. Both teams shared in prayer and then showed respect for one another during each bands playing of the school song.

Moments later, with the field nearly cleared, Itasca’s band shouted across the field wishing Italy band good luck in Groesbeck with both band’s competing in Groesback. Italy’s band members replied with a loud, “You, too,” and then both bands banded together on Itasca’s sideline for one last tune to end the night.

Italy’s defensive end, Zain Byers, who was named the district’s Pre-season Defensive MVP by Dave Campbell’s Texas Football magazine this past summer, helped inspire the Gladiator defense against Itasca with 8 tackles, 1 sack and 1 caused fumble along with Bland, at linebacker, who led the team with 12 tackles (2 for loss) and linebacker Shad Newman who recorded 10 tackles and had a near interception. John Byers and Cody Boyd gave standout performances with Robertson, Walton, Fortenberry, Sheppard, Medrano, Darol Mayberry, Roldan, Colin Newman, Ryan Connor, Tyler Vencill and Miller all having a part in shutting down the Wampus Cats on their home field.

Offensively, Sheppard made the most of his personal homecoming against his former team in leading the Gladiators with 171 yards rushing, 143 yards passing, 3 rushing touchdowns and 1 passing touchdown. Newman, Bland and McBride each enjoyed recording their first touchdowns of the season with Merimon playing a key role in Italy’s running game totaling 85 yards. Robertson had 3 catches for 115 yards and 1 touchdown and McBride caught 3 for 62 yards and 1 touchdown to lead Italy’s receiving corp.


Gladiator Carries Rush YDS REC Rec YDS Pass Comp/YDS TD Pass TD
Merimon 8 85 1/1 1
Newman 8 60 1 (Rushing)
Robertson 1 25 3/3 115 1 (Rushing)
Sheppard 11 171 4/8/143 1 3 (Rushing)
Anderson 4 31 2/2/34 2 (Passing)
McBride 3/4 62 1 (Receiving)
Bland 2 67


Gladiator Tackles Assists TFL FF FR QBH Sack INT
McBride 1
Robertson 4 2
Miller 1 1 (2 return yards)
Merimon 1
Sheppard 2 1
Boyd 4 1
Connor 1
S. Newman 5 5
Bland 7 5 2
Z. Byers 6 1 2 1 1 1
Walton 2 1
J. Byers 4
Mayberry 3 2
Roldan 1 1
Fortenberry 2 1
Medrano 2 1
C. Newman 1 1


Gladiator Punt/YDS PAT PR KO Return/YDS Points
Roldan 4/6 4

Tindol’s Trophies:

  • Special Teams MVP — Kevin Roldan (4/6 on P.A.T.s and strategic place kicking)
  • Offensive Line — Cody Medrano
  • Offensive MVPs —
    • TaMarcus Sheppard (314 total yards, 3 rush TDs, 1 pass TD)
    • Trevon Robertson (3-of-3 receiving for 115 yards)
  • Defensive Line — Zain Byers (Led the D-Line with 8 tackles, 2 TFL, 1 sack, 1 CF, 1 QBH)
  • Defensive MVP — Coby Bland (Leading tackler with 12 total, 2 for a loss)
  • Hitman — Zain Byers
  • Overall MVP — Shad Newman (Had 8 rushes for 60 yards averaging 7.5 yards per carry and totaling 10 tackles on defense)

Game Time:
Italy travels again this week to play Crossroads on Friday, October 18, starting at 7:30 p.m.

Go Italy!

[ Click for more images of the district opener for the Gladiators ]