ITALY — For the first 30 or so minutes of "practice" time in Friday's Italy-Little River scrimmage at Gladiator Stadium, Head Coach David Weaver and his team were stuffed, stifled and stymied.
During the 12-minute quarter of live football, though, Italy — namely on running back Kendrick Norwood's touchdown run — found the room needed to force a 7-7 tie with Little River Academy's Bumblebees.
"We had a slow start but I think we responded once we got rolling," Weaver commented. "Then, we started gaining more confidence. I think that's going to be something we're going to experience every day from this point forward. With the offense that we run, it takes a little while to click."
"A little while" took a one-series three-and-out before Italy High School found a crack in Little River's staunch defense.
During a designed sweep around the left edge of Academy's defensive line, Norwood shuddered one defender, stutter-stepped another and, more importantly, smashed through the tackle of a third. His run went for 64 yards in total and left the senior streaking towards paydirt.
Italy physicality defined in the eyes of fans roaring cheers from steel bleacher stands.
Junior wide receiver Al Waits' catch and run on drag route required leapfrogging a waiting defender to gain a first down and extended a Gladiators' drive. It may have also shown the versatility contained in Weaver's offense. Waits' rush gained 15 yards.
The defense, too, seemed to take steady strides in its new 3-4 scheme. Between a near sack by senior Gary Escamilla, several pass deflections and a lunging interception by senior linebacker Anthony Lusk, Italy caged both dual threat quarterback Treyton Bates and its 6-foot-1 running back Jonathan Rouse.
Little River scored on only one play, a five-yard bull-rush through the right side of Italy's defensive line. Junior defensive lineman Christion Washington was injured three plays earlier.
"It's early in the year and we are making mistakes all over the place but we like the enthusiasm and speed were playing with," Weaver said. "It's going to be first thing in the morning video sessions and physical stuff on Monday."
On the Bumblebee's final drive, senior Clay Riddle and the Gladiators defense made key stops, halted a drive at the 35-yard line and forced a turnover on downs.
Italy was without Washington for the last five minutes of the live quarter and senior quarterback Tylan Wallace for the entire game.
Wallace missed action due to a coaching decision and was replaced in the scrimmage rotation by juniors Marco Duarte and Andrew Oldfield.
According to Weaver, the extent of Washington's knee injury was unknown. Italy ISD has not released further information on the matter.
"Christion's a big-time football player for us," Weaver said. "But we understand that in this game, you're only as good as your next guy. We are going to answer the challenge, the next guy's going to rise up and we're going to respond like champions do."
Marcus S. Marion is the sports editor of the Waxahachie Daily Light and Midlothian Mirror. He can be reached by phone at (469) 517-1456 or across social media platforms @MarcusSMarion.