ITALY – If defense truly wins championships, look out for the Italy Gladiators.
In a battle of Class 2A Ellis County rivals, Italy played host to Maypearl at Willis Field Friday night and used a solid running attack coupled with a near perfect defensive performance to shut out the visiting Panthers 30-0.
Italy (1-0) allowed just 37 yards of total offense to the Panthers while breaking in first-year Gladiator quarterback Jace Holden.
Holden looked like he had played quarterback for years despite the fact that he was a receiver last season before coming into two-a-days and switching to quarterback.
from Holden before stepping up and throwing the ball back to the quarterback for the two-point conversion.
“It was good. We came out and ran our game plan to perfection. My receivers caught the ball well. We had a couple of drops, but Devonta focused back up and was able to catch that last one. Eric made a nice adjustment when I ran out of the pocket. I felt comfortable, it was a nice win,” Holden said. “Our running backs and offensive line won this game for us. Brandon went down early and Kevin Roldan came in and stepped up. He is just a sophomore but he played like a senior tonight. It was really great to have him step up like that.”
The eight-point lead is all the Gladiators needed and the defense thwarted several possible scoring opportunities by the Panthers.
Maypearl’s average starting field position was its own 45-yard line and the Panthers started on Italy’s side of the field three times, including the 18-yard line, but on each occasion the Italy defense knew what to expect.
“That is what we have been preaching on all week. We had the perfect game plan. We knew every time they lined up in a formation what the play was going to be. I have to give a big shout out to the coaches because without them I do not know what we would have done,” Holden said about the defense.
Larry Mayberry Jr., Walker, Kyle Jackson and Tony Wooldridge had strong defensive performances in holding Maypearl to 16 first half yards.
“We are really proud of the effort on both sides of the ball, especially defense. Our kids have really started to gel and play well on that side,” Bales said.
Mayberry had three sacks and a tackle for a loss in the first half while Walker, Issac Medrano and Braulio Luna also had a sack. Wooldridge finished the game with five tackles, Walker seven, Jackson five and Mayberry five.
Italy’s defense made it a rough debut for Maypearl quarterback Frank Morphis who was replacing three-year starter Connor Vaughn.
Morphis finished the night 4-of-7 passing for 18 yards while being the focus of 67 percent of the team’s offense, much like Vaughn was last season.
From the outset, Morphis was used often as the junior rushed for 18 yards on 22 carries.
Maypearl’s defense held Italy to 178 yards of offense but took a major blow in the second half when Ethan Eastwood was injured trying to defend a two-point conversion attempt.
Eastwood, the 2010 leader in tackles, injured his knee while trying to bring down Walker on a pass attempt. He had a team-high six tackles before the injury.
“Maypearl is going to get after it. They have got some good tough kids. They fought hard tonight but I am really proud of our kids,” Bales said.
After taking the 8-0 lead on its opening drive, Italy’s next touchdown came in the second quarter on a one-yard run by Walker.
The Gladiators opened the second half with another score after the opening kick off the foot of Roldan bounced off a Maypearl defender and into the arms of Paul Harris.
Italy drove 34 yards on 11 plays to score on a two-yard plunge by Jackson before Walker passed to Hamilton for the two-point conversion.
Minutes into the fourth quarter the Gladiators put the game out of reach when Holden connected with Devonta Simmons for a 28-yard touchdown. Walker added the two-point conversion with 9:46 left in the game.
Italy plays at perennial power Mart this week while Maypearl hosts Tolar.
Maypearl 0-0-0-0 – 00
Italy 8-6-8-8 – 30
Italy – Carson 9 pass from Holden 6 run (2PC Holden pass from Walker)
Italy – Walker 1 run (2PC failed)
Italy – Jackson 2 run (2PC)
Italy – Simmons 28 pass from Holden (2PC, Walker run)
The senior was 3-of-8 passing for 34 yards and two touchdowns, but made coach Craig Bales look like a genius as he was unflappable in the backfield despite losing his starting center on the first series.
“I was really proud of him. He was nervous coming into the game, but we talked late in the game and he said, ‘Coach, I did not know how I would like being the quarterback in a real game but I like it pretty good,’” Bales said.
Bales wasted no time testing his inexperienced quarterback in pressure situations as the Gladiators faced a fourth-and-one in its opening series. Holden gave the ball to running back Chase Hamilton who broke loose for 33 yards.
One play later starting center Brandon Souder was injured and carted off the field before untested sophomore Kevin Roldan stepped in.
The pressure mounted as Italy faced another fourth down, this time needing six yards for a first.
Showing extreme faith in his quarterback, Bales called a pass and Holden delivered.
The senior rolled right and found Eric Carson in the endzone as the sophomore receiver managed to stay inbounds for the lead.
Italy took an 8-0 advantage when running back Ryheem Walker took a shotgun snap