Blue Jays face perennial power once again

The Jackson-Milton football program made school history last year, making the OHSAA playoff for the first time. Unfortunately, J-M ran into perennial powerhouse Mogadore in the first round of the Division VII playoffs.

Mogadore dispatched the Blue Jays, 63-20, on the way to a state runner-up finish. The Wildcats lost 33-14 to Fort Recovery in the state championship game.

One year later and the Blue Jays (7-3) again have made the playoffs and, once again, will face Mogadore. The Wildcats (8-2) play host to Jackson-Milton Saturday night at 7. Just like last year, Jackson-Milton is the seventh seed in the region and Mogadore is second.

But following up the school’s first playoff appearance with a repeat trip speaks to the progress the Blue Jays have made.

“We set the foundation a few years back and we continue to build,” coach Mark Assion, in his seventh year as head coach, said. “Two straight playoff berths is a manifestation of what we’ve been building.”

The Jackson-Milton season included a 21-0 loss to Newton Falls (2-8) in week two and losses to the powers of the Inter Tri-County League Blue Tier, McDonald and Western Reserve. But the Jays picked up important wins over Windham (7-3) and Newbury (6-4) to qualify for the playoffs.

“We just seemed to have a chip on our shoulders coming off of last year,” Assion said about his team’s motivation for 2016. “This group of seniors is a group of young men who have worked very hard. About the only goal they talked about was to compete every time they stepped on the field.”

Mogadore is making its 30th playoff appearance. The Wildcats have won three state titles and have reached the state semifinals 17 times.

“Mogadore is a tremendous program and annually in the state playoffs. They like to run the ball, they come at you downhill,” Assion said. “They’ve got an all-state linebacker and they really get after it defensively.”

The only Division VII team in the six-team Portage Trails Conference County Division, Mogadore lost to Division IV Crestwood (9-1) in midseason and then to Division V Rootstown (6-4) in the season finale. That 21-14 win by the Rovers could provide additional hope for the Blue Jays.

“We watched the tape of that game and, like great programs, Mogadore is good at protecting the ball and not having turnovers,” Assion said. “But that night they put the ball down on the ground too many times in the first half. They came back, but came up a little bit short.

“You’ve got to give it to Roostown and their coaching staff, too, for the game plan they put together.”

If anything, just the experience of having been in the playoffs last year and having been to Mogadore should help as the Blue Jays try to forge another bit of school history — an initial playoff victory.