The Gladiators experienced plenty of firsts Friday night during their district opening win over the visiting Frost Polar Bears. It was the first points scored by Italy this season after being shutout in three preseason games. It proved to be Italy’s first win of the season. Italy had their first 100 yard rusher in Coby jeffords and it was Zac Mercer’s first victory as a member of the Italy High School cheerleader squad!
Italy captains were seniors Ty Fernandez, John Escamilla, Jack Hernandez and Kyle Fortenberry. Frost won the toss and elected to receive. The action picked up early in the first-quarter when senior defensive end John Byers scooped up a forgotten ball in the Frost backfield and rumbled 15-yards down to the Polar Bear 24-yard line.
David De La Hoya kicked off for the Gladiators and Fabian Cortez delivered the boom on the Frost kick returner with a high-flying tackle. Moments later, senior defensive-end John Byers had given Italy some of their best field position of the season after scooping up a fumble. The offense then pushed its way to the 1 inch line. The drive stalled after consecutive tries by quarterback Joe Celis came up short of the goal line but at least Italy had Frost penned back.
Two plays later, Jeffords, a senior linebacker, helped force a Frost fumble with teammate Aaron Pittmon digging the ball out of the ensuing scrum. First down Italy at the Frost 3-yard line! Again, Italy kept knocking on the door of scoring their first touchdown of the season but Frost was unwilling to rollout the welcome matt.
Finally, on 4th and 2, Jeffords took the handoff from Celis and followed blockers Clayton Miller and Kyle Tindol around the left side where Jeffords outraced the Polar Bear defense to the pylon. Italy struck first, 6-0, with 4:36 to play in the opening quarter. The point-after kick was blocked by the Polar Bears but Italy maintained the lead as the first-quarter came to an end.
A turnover by Italy at the 6:16 mark of the second-quarter setup a deep pass downfield for a game-tying Polar Bear touchdown. The point-after kick was wide left to keep the score even at 6-all.
The Gladiators responded with tough runs by Jeffords and roll-outs by Celis to advance the ball into Polar Bear territory. Jeffords capped out the drive with a 7-yard run into the endzone at the 1:12 mark of the first-half. Tindol caught an out pass from Celis and then dove across the goal line for the conversion, giving Italy a 14-0 advantage going into the break.
Frost attempted to score on the last play of the half but pressure on the Frost QB allowed Tindol to break up the passing effort at the goal line.
The award winning Gladiator Regiment Band and Flag Corp, led by drum major Alexis Sampley, entertained the hometown fans with the precision and dedication we have all become accustomed to in recent years. Directors Jesus Perez and David Graves beamed with pride as their band members delivered another amazing performance.
To begin the second-half, Italy’s Clayton Miller fielded a short kickoff by Frost and punched his way to the Gladiator 45-yard line. After a 2 yard gain by Jeffords and a holding call against the Gladiators, Jeffords breaks thru on his next try and hits the Frost sideline in stride. One last, 270 pound, downfield block by backside tackle John Byers ensured Jeffords would gallop the full 63 yards to put Italy up 20-6 at the 10:44 mark of the third-quarter. De La Hoya added the point-after to give Italy a 21-6 edge.
Frost responded with a determined drive to push the ball across the goal line. The ensuing point-after try failed but Frost was hanging close, 21-12 with under 4 minutes remaining in the third.
Again Miller returned a Frost kickoff for positive yards. A pass completion from Celis to Cortez, who benefitted from the downfield blocks by Tindol and Miller, seemed to have Italy motoring in the right direction, yet again. Frost had other plans when an interception on the next play gave the Polar Bears the ball just outside Italy’s 20-yard line. Frost scored from there to tighten the game 21-19 after the point-after kick proved true.
Italy rolled up their sleeves and went back to work, driving deep into Polar Bear territory as the third rolled into the fourth-quarter. After a side change, an untimely fumble by the Gladiators gifted the ball back to the Polar Bears. Italy’s defense rose up, however, to keep Frost stuck in neutral and to force a Polar Bear punt.
With the outcome still undecided at 21-19 with Italy in front, Gladiator head coach Charles Tindol went back to his work horse and Jeffords added 2 more touchdowns in the final 5 minutes. Jeffords sealed the deal for the Gladiators who went on to win 35-19. De La Hoya booted thru the final 2 point-after kicks with Celis holding and Fortenberry snapping.
Italy overcame a tough Frost defensive line to get Jeffords to the second level and an eventual total of 256 yards on 22 carries and a whopping 5 total touchdowns. Credit Byers, Fernandez, Clay Riddle, Austin Pittmon, and Fortenberry at center, for their hard work in the trenches. Once he was past the wall of blue and white, Jeffords benefitted greatly from his downfield blockers, as well, with Cody Boyd, Miller, Ryan Connor, Jack Hernandez, Cortez and Tindol taking care of business downfield for the Gladiator offense.
With Levi McBride and Hunter Merimon out with injury, Fortenberry and Jeffords had solid performances from their linebacker positions while Miller, Cortez, Riddle and Connor had all-around good games to pick up the slack. Hunter Morgan, a freshman, relished in his first varsity start at outside linebacker and a sack by Riddle, also a freshman, in the Frost backfield late in the fourth pumped up the crowds. Pressure by Austin Crawford on the Frost QB forced an arrant pass and resulted in a pick by Kendrick Norwood which punctuated the Italy effort!
With the victory, Italy improves their overall record to 1-3 and 1-0 to start district.
|Joe Celis(8)||18/67||3of4/29||Conversion Pass|
|Kyle Tindol(12)||4/18||1/3||2-pt. Rec.|
|David De La Hoya(56)||3 PAT kicks|
- Overall MVP — Coby Jeffords (22 carries, 256 rushing yards and 5 Touchdowns)
- Defensive Co-MVP — Kyle Fortenberry (3 Tackles, 3 Assists), Clayton Miller (5 tack, 2 assists)
- Offensive Co-MVP — Clayton Miller (Downfield blocking and 1 reception for 17 yards), Kyle Tindol (Downfield blocking and 4 carries for 18 yards)
- Offensive Line MVP — Clay Riddle
- Defensive Line MVP — John Byers (2 Tackles, 1 assist, Fumble recovery returned 15 yards)
- Special Teams MVP — David De La Hoya
- Hitman — Fabian Cortez
The Gladiators will play an away game against Meridian this Friday, October 3, starting at 7:30 p.m. It will be Italy’s second district game.