Bluejays relish community support
||Mahoning Valley Athletic Conference
By Brian Dzenis
It may not have been much, but it meant everything.
The most memorable moments of the Jackson-Milton football team’s first playoff experience in the school’s 44-year history did not happen on the football field.
It was the way the North Jackson community embraced 28 players and five coaches who had taken the program into uncharted territory.
“It was great, all the students and parents were out there celebrating with us, we got on the bus and got a police escort, we had like five cars behind the bus, it was awesome,” Bluejays quarterback Mike Assion said. “They had the ‘Beat Mogadore’ sign on the bridge.
“Nothing will ever compare to the feeling we had today, win or lose.”
Friday, the Bluejays’ season ended with a 63-20 loss to Mogadore in the Division VII Region 23 playoffs.
After the game, parents cajoled the players into squeezing together for one last team photo, wanting to capture the posterity of the first Bluejays’ playoff team. There was little talk of the game.
“I would rather put this down the drain if you know what I mean,” Bluejays head coach Mark Assion said.
Mogadore, a postseason mainstay with 17th straight seasons of playoff action, has 40 league titles, 16 regional titles and four state titles. The Wildcats had a massive numbers advantage, with 60 players compared to the Bluejays’ 28.
“We weren’t looking at it that way, we’ve been looking at that all year, our kids got together and busted their rumps and tuckuses do what they’re supposed to do,” Assion said. “We’ve been in more ballgames than not and it was unfortunate how the season ended for us, but these kids love each other and they take care of each other.”
The Bluejays (7-4) showed some fight early on by matching the Wildcats’ first Zeddie Pollack touchdown with a touchdown drive capped off with Mike Assion’s 35-yard strike to Adam Smith.
But the Wildcats’ offense could not be stopped.
In one half of work, Pollack, the starting quarterback, scored four touchdowns to go with 95 passing yards and 46 rushing yards. Running back Luke Cramer compiled two rushing touchdowns and 145 rushing yards on just eight carries. He also added a punt return for a touchdown as the Wildcats put up 56 points in the first half.
The Bluejays’ ascension started out with an 0-10 team three years coached by the elder Assion.
Mike Assion and his fellow seniors kept the faith through the lean years.
“Our success in peewees let us know we were good, we just had to grow older, 15-and-16-year-olds playing against 18-year-olds isn’t fair and you just had to keep working at it, so that’s what we did,” Mike Assion said.
There are no shortcuts to success, and the Blue Jays’ quarterback preaches persistence.
“You just have to keep working at it, I was just telling [my teammates] that we weren’t so good when we started out,” Mike Assion said. “I just loved the game and kept working at it, that’s what you got to do.”
Mark Assion said, “This team is a group of brothers. They went 0-10 as freshmen and they turned it around and went to the playoffs in their senior year. It was unbelievable.”