Later Gators! Gladiators rally to defeat Gateway 28-24; McBride saves the day

Image: With just over a minute on the clock and his team down 24-21, Italy Gladiator sophomore receiver Levi McBride(1) is hit in stride by quarterback TaMarcus Sheppard for a 69-yard game winning touchdown against Dallas Gateway. McBride’s heroics improved Italy’s district mark to 4-0 and gives them sole possession of 1st Place with one game remaining.

With just over a minute on the clock and his team down 24-21, Italy Gladiator sophomore receiver Levi McBride(1) is hit in stride by quarterback TaMarcus Sheppard for a 69-yard game winning touchdown against Dallas Gateway. McBride’s heroics improved Italy’s district mark to 4-0 and gives them sole possession of 1st Place with one game remaining. (Barry Byers)

Dallas Gateway — The first half belonged to the Dallas Gateway Gators (1-8,1-4) who took advantage of a slow start by the Italy Gladiators (5-4,4-0) to piece together a 24-7 halftime advantage. This past Friday night, however, was a tale of two halves with Italy’s defense keeping the Gateway offense scoreless in the final two quarters to give the Gladiator offense a chance.

Italy scored one rushing touchdown in the third via halfback Justin Wood and two touchdowns in the fourth, both on receptions by Levi McBride, who made a dramatic catch, run and score with a 0:58 remaining to complete the Gladiator comeback, 28-24. The final TD pass from TaMarcus Sheppard to McBride covered 69-yards and helps keep Italy undefeated in district play at 4-0 with one district game remaining.

First Half Recap:
After Gateway shocked Italy with a 61-yard touchdown run and a conversion to lead 8-0 early, the Gladiators responded with a touchdown run by Sheppard from 30 yards out to keep things close. A Kevin Roldan point-after kick made the score 8-7 with Gateway still in front.

Gateway scored again and then was successful on the conversion run try to lead 16-7 at the 9:03 mark of the first-quarter. Gateway added another touchdown in the second-quarter and again scored 2-points on the conversion try to go up 24-7. After a rib shot on Gateway’s quarterback, courtesy of defensive end Zain Byers, forced an arrant throw that was intercepted by Robertson, the Gladiators were back in business with the first-half speeding by. Italy tried to punch it in before the half concluded but an incomplete pass into the end zone on 4th down was just out of reach of the intended receiver.

“After I tagged him, he was jittery in the pocket the rest of the way,” said Byers of Gateway’s quarterback and the Gator passing attack. “We didn’t get any points off the turnover but he felt it….and he had the whole halftime to think about it.”

After the Gladiators exited the field calmly and and as a tight unit, the Gladiator Regiment Marching Band and color guard marched onto the field with Kayla Cunningham, Jennifer McDaniel, Kylee Dabney and Sarah Burrow waving their flags high. Drum major Alexis Sampley runs the show along with fellow drum major Emily Stiles. So good at what they do, the Gateway fans were extremely appreciative of the performance offering applause at every opportunity. Congratulations to the 2013-2014 Italy Gladiator Regiment Band and Color Guard who are the first Italy band to qualify for the area finals!

Third Quarter:
The Gladiators went to work quickly to start the second-half of play. Sheppard returned the kickoff 28-yards to Gateway’s 46-yard line. Trevon Robertson maneuvered his way thru the Gator defense for a gain of 9 yards to the thirty-seven. Sheppard did most of the leg work from there until he handed of to Wood who matter-of-factly sliced thru Gator defenders for a 10 yard Gladiator touchdown with 7:02 remaining in the quarter. Kyle Fortenberry snapped to holder Tyler Anderson with Kevin Roldan booting thru the extra point to make the score 24-14 with Gateway still in front.

As the game continued, Gladiator fans became more and more frustrated with the officiating crew and their lack of penalty flags, as well as, allowing the Gateway clock keeper to run the clock. “Their refereeing crew was awful,” exclaimed Italy fan Brian “The Greek” Mathiowetz in regards to the seemingly one-sided officials. “They missed holding penalties that Stevie Wonder could have seen!”

Inspired by a solo tackle on special teams by sophomore Clayton Miller that penned Gateway at their own 17-yard line, Italy’s defense forced the Gators to punt. Unfortunately, Italy was flagged for roughing the punter which gave the Gators and their clock keeper a chance to run more time off the clock.

Gateway reaches Italy’s 48-yard line and try a flat pass to the back on 3rd down. Byers reads the play and tackles the back behind the line-of-scrimmage before the catch could be made. The heads up, and legal, play by Byers causes Gateway to punt with Italy starting from their own 10-yard line. Sheppard then keeps for a few yards to end the third-quarter.

To start the unforgettable fourth-quarter, Sheppard keeps again for a 29 yard gain to the forty-three. A sack and an incomplete pass down-field results in a Sheppard punt with Gateway starting from their own 32-yard line. A tackle by Coby Bland and then a group tackle by the Gladiator defense spots the ball at the thirty-six. Gateway completes the flat pass this time but Bland forces the play out-of-bounds and the Gators punt again. Italy’s offense starts from their own thirty-three.

Sheppard keeps for 20 yards to the Gateway forty-six with help from a downfield block from Robertson. After a false start penalty and a 3 yard gain by Sheppard, Levi McBride catches a pass from Sheppard and advances the ball to the Gator 43-yard line. Sheppard runs to the 39-yard line but Italy faces a 4th and 5. Sheppard sprints for a 1st down to the enemy’s 29-yard line. Robertson catches a pass from Sheppard to the nineteen. Sheppard then puts a nice touch on a pass to McBride who makes the catch for a 19 yard touchdown completion. Roldan is accurate on the point-after kick and suddenly it is a 3-point game, 24-21, with Gateway still in front.

Roldan kicks off and Gateway begins from their own thirty-three. Cody Medrano makes consecutive tackles to bring up 3rd and 2 but the Gator offense escapes out of the backfield for the 1st down to midfield. Tackles by Bland, Byers and Shad Newman force Gateway to punt on 3rd and long penning Italy back at their own 5-yard line.

With just a few minutes remaining, Sheppard launches a bomb downfield but the pass is intercepted at the Gladiator 35-yard line. All Gateway needed to do to pull off the upset was run the final 2:30 off the clock or score a game sealing touchdown with a short field. It did not look good for the Gladiators to say the least.

After a short run up the middle, Gateway’s quarterback fumbles the shotgun snap and Bland and Byers close in to make the stop in the Gator backfield. Byers tackles Gateway short of the 1st down marker on the next play so the Gators opt to go for it on 4th down. Byers penetrates and makes first contact and then is joined by several of his teammates to hold the Gators short of the 1st down with 1:30 remaining in the game. Italy’s ball!

Italy’s offense takes over at their own twenty-four. Sheppard hits Robertson for 7 yards out to the 31-yard line with the senior stepping out of bounds to stop the clock. Like magic, the game clock is extremely accurate at this point. 1:10 remains.

Sheppard, out of the shotgun, takes the snap from Fortenberry and enjoys solid protection behind his offensive line with Roldan, Byers, Darol Mayberry, Medrano and Fortenberry holding their ground. Wood, at up back, offers one last shove of protection which allows Sheppard to hit McBride in stride at the Gateway 47-yard line. McBride out races three Gateway defenders to the endzone to give Italy their first lead of the game with 0:58 remaining, 27-24. With Italy now up 3-points after the 69-yard scoring effort, the combination of Fortenberry, snapping to Anderson, who holds for Roldan, who kicks in the extra point, gives Italy a 28-24 advantage. Gateway needs a touchdown cause a field goal just won’t do.

Roldan kicks it away with Ryan Connor and freshman Joe Celis teaming up for the stop at the Gateway 42-yard line. Connor who had an interception and a fumble recovery after a Bland strip in the first-half, perhaps made his biggest contribution of the game during the kickoff to keep Gateway’s speedsters from going the distance.

Gateway completes a 6-yard pass to the forty-eight, 2nd and 4. With the game on the line, defensive end Bailey Walton flushes Gateway’s quarterback who rolls right to throw but Bland chops him across his arms to force an incomplete pass, 3rd and 4. The next pass attempt kicks up turf downfield to bring up 4th and 4. Gateway sets up the flat pass, yet again, to get the 1st down yardage. However, Byers jumps the and play blows past two blockers to drive the nail in the coffin with a gut busting form tackle on Gateway’s running back. And that was the end of that.

Sheppard takes three victory snaps to run out the final seconds as the Gladiators, in dramatic fashion, improve their district mark to 4-0 with one game remaining.

Defensive coordinator Brandon Ganske spoke highly of the second-half effort by his defense, “I’m proud of our players for keeping the Gator offense scoreless in the second-half. We had to make up a lot of ground and their combined efforts gave our offense a chance.”

After sweating it out for the first three quarters from the bleachers, Italy High School principal, Lee Joffre, made his way down to the sidelines to help cheer on the Gladiators during their fourth-quarter heroics. After the victory, Joffre had this to say of the team’s performance, “These young men are in position to be district champs. Their fight and determination has been underestimated all season. There is a renewed excitement in the community because of the resiliency of this group of Gladiators. I am proud of them and Coach Tindol’s staff.”


Gladiator Carries Rush YDS REC/ATT/YDS Pass Comp/YDS TD Pass TD
Merimon 7 29
Wood 3 16 1 (Rushing)
Newman 1 9 1/1/6
Robertson 1 9 5/9/58
Sheppard 26 173 10/19/174 2 (Long 69) 1 (Rushing)
McBride 2 -4 4/5/110 2 (Receiving)


Gladiator Tackles Assists TFL FF FR QBH Sack INT
Robertson 3 2 1
Miller 1 1
Merimon 1
Sheppard 3 1
Anderson 1
Boyd 1
Connor 2 2 1 1
S. Newman 2 2
Bland 9 2 2 1 1 1
Z. Byers 7 2 2 2 1
Walton 2 3
Mayberry 2 3
Vencill 3
Fortenberry 2 1
Medrano 2 2
C. Newman 1
Celis 1


Gladiator Punt/YDS PAT PR KO Return/YDS Points
Sheppard 2/67 2/42
Roldan 4/4 4
Robertson 1/10
Connor 1/31 1/8

Tindol’s Trophies:

  • Special Teams MVP — Kevin Roldan (4-of-4 on point-after kicks and solid kickoffs)
  • Offensive Line — Kyle Fortenberry (Reliable snapping and controlling Gateway’s nose guard)
  • Offensive MVP — TaMarcus Sheppard (Reaches 1,136 yards on 160 carries in 9 games)
  • Defensive Line — Tyler Vencill (Stepping up for the defensive line)
  • Defensive MVP — Coby Bland (Personal best defensive outing), Trevon Robertson (5 tackles and 1 INT)
  • Hard Hitter — Zain Byers (The rib shot and the hard tackle to end the game)
  • Overall MVP — Levi McBride (Catching the game winning TD pass with 0:58 remaining)

Special thanks to our fans for bringing all their passion every Friday night. It took every player contributing and every fan doing their part. We just ask everyone to keep comments and/or criticisms you may have during the game constructive and positive. Now, let’s go get the district championship!_

Game Time:
The district’s defending champs play their final home game of the season Friday, November 8, against the visiting Kerens Bobcats. Friday’s game is also Senior Night with a pre-game presentation beginning at 7:00 p.m. to honor Italy’s football seniors and our lone senior cheerleader. The game starts at 7:30 p.m. with a halftime performance by the Gladiator Regiment Band and Color Guard who will also take a moment to honor their senior band members.

Their will be no JV Football game nor any Jr High football games on Thursday, November 7. Officially, both of their seasons have ended.

Go Italy!

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