HUBBARD – Last week the Italy Gladiator defense held its own against Palmer, but its offense was able to score only 14 points. This week the Italy defense pounced on the Hubbard Jaguar offense and the Gladiators won by 14 points.

That stifling defense led the Gladiators to a 36-22 victory.

Italy running back and kick returner Ryheem Walker returned the opening kickoff for 45 yards to the Hubbard 25. After five plays and a flag, it looked like the Italy offense was sputtering again with a fourth and 10 at the Hubbard 30, but quarterback Jace Holden hit Walker with a 15-yard pass for a first down to revive the drive. Six plays later and with almost six minutes of the first quarter gone, Italy scored a touchdown. The Gladiators were successful on a two-point conversion attempt that came on a pass from Walker when Hubbard’s defensive back dove in front of the pass and tipped it, but Italy caught it for the conversion.

Hubbard had a long drive brewing, but the Jaguars ran into some excellent defensive play by Italy’s Ethan Saxon, Chase Hamilton, Hayden Woods and Kyle Jackson. Hubbard was forced to punt.

The Jaguars’ defensive back D’Warren Simmons intercepted an Italy pass on the ensuing drive and with 2:30 left in the quarter returned it 10 yards to the end-zone. Hubbard was successful on its two-point conversion attempt to tie the game at eight.

The opening run of Italy’s second scoring drive was a series of twists and turns by Walker with the help of the Italy line blocking on the left side for a 20-yard scamper. The culminating touchdown was an outstanding run by running back Jalarnce Lewis around the right end.

Walker scored the next touchdown on the offensive play of the game as he took the ball on Italy’s own 30-yard line and ran it over the left side of Hubbard’s defense for a 70-yard touchdown boosting the score to 20-8.

After three changes of possession, Hubbard was intercepted by the Gladiators at the Italy 32. On the very next play Holden hit running back Ethan Saxon for a 68-yard touchdown pass. A pass from Walker to running back Kyle Jackson added two more points for a 28-8 game at half time.

As the second half opened, the Jaguars hit the field with renewed commitment as shown in the next series of play starting at their own 35. After 15 plays and three penalties, eating up almost eight minutes of the clock, Hubbard scored and was successful on the two-point conversion to make the game 28-16.

Hubbard fans breathed a sigh of relief in anticipation that the momentum may have turned, only to have Italy acquire good field position on its own 46 and score eight points again in just four plays. The highlight of those four plays was once again Walker trouncing over the left side for a gain of 30 yards to the Hubbard 20-yard line. With 2:15 left in the third quarter the score was now Italy 36 and Hubbard 16.

Italy’s defensive success is rooted in the fact that its players are quicker than they are big. With a healthy lead and the game time waning, they could afford to load up and attack with reckless abandon, and that’s what they did. Hubbard’s next series was stalled by excellent pass defense causing Hubbard to throw three incomplete passes facing a fourth and 10 at its own 44.

The fourth desperation pass was intercepted by Italy’s free safety Devonta Simmons, who returned it for an apparent touchdown, only to have it called back for an Italy penalty during the return.

The fourth quarter was much of the same with Italy in a comfortable driver’s seat, but the Jaguars never gave up. With just 5:39 left in the game, they received an Italy punt at their own 17.

After just seven plays the Jaguars were facing a third and inches at the Gladiator 11-yard line. The next was reminiscent of the old “fumble-roosky” play. Whether intentional or not, the center rolled the snap on the ground and the lone running back ran forward, scooped it up and ran it, but the quick and alert Italy defense gang-tackled him behind the line.

Now facing a fourth and inches, Jaguar’s work-horse on the ground, Bradley Walker, ran up the middle for 11 yards and a touchdown. When Walker tried for two points, Italy’s Kyle Jackson met him head-on to keep the score 36-22 in Italy’s favor.

With 1:58 remaining in the game, Hubbard failed on an onside kick attempt and Italy was able to run out the clock.