Milton showing growth during hot start
NORTH JACKSON — A year ago, the Jackson-Milton Blue Jays stepped off the field after a close 28-26 home loss to McDonald, which ended their season with a disappointing record of 2-7.
It wasn’t exactly what head coach Nate Brode or the Blue Jays wanted to experience. But, with a young roster that had sophomores and juniors littered across the field, it was something that they may have had to endure in order to set themselves up for a bounce back season.
“A lot of the guys that are now playing this year, we’re sophomores and juniors and it was their first time playing last year, so they were just young and inexperienced,” Brode said. “Now they are in their second year, their second year with the terminology and second year with varsity experience and it’s really helped.”
Through four games, the Blue Jays are off to their best start since 2020, in which they finished 6-3. Jackson-Milton also started off 4-0 in 2015 in which they defeated Chalker, Newton Falls, Windham and Leetonia in the first four weeks of the season.
This season, the Blue Jays started off the year with a 54-0 shutout victory over Leetonia as senior quarterback Alex Schiavi threw for 295 yards and a school record seven touchdown passes.
Since that Week 1 victory, Jackson-Milton has recorded a two-point victory over Newton Falls, shut out LaBrae, and most recently edged out Western Reserve in a thrilling 22-21 victory.
Brode said a majority of their success could be attributed to the growth of their team from last year and the focus they’ve had on the field.
“I think our guys have executed our game plan well every week and have been extremely coachable and hard working,” Brode said. “So I’m just proud of them. A 4-0 start was very important for us, but we’ve just wanted to go 1-0 every week, so it’s worked out pretty well for us.”
Along with the defense only allowing 35 total points in four games, Schiavi has been a big piece of the Blue Jays success this season.
The signal-caller has passed for 842 yards and 12 touchdowns so far this season while completing 71 percent of his 104 pass attempts. He’s also rushed for 121 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries.
After starting at Mathews as a freshman under now-Leetonia coach John Protopapa, Schiavi transferred to Jackson-Milton last season and has just been waiting for his next opportunity.
So far, he’s taken advantage of it.
“Starting as a freshman, you can only imagine what that has done for Alex’s experience and how he can develop at such a faster rate than some of these other guys,” Brode said. “He’s got four years of starting varsity reps at quarterback, which doesn’t happen very often.
“He’s just kinda continued since coming over to us last year and I think just the game experience has allowed us to do so much more with Alex. He’s just such a cerebral person.”
Early on this season, the Blue Jays leaned on Schiavi and the passing game but over the past couple games have looked to work towards a 50-50 split between the pass and the run. Throughout the process they’ve gotten a lot of their athletes involved.
Sophomore Keegan White, junior Joey Zayas and senior Tanner Butler have shown to be reliable on the ground, if Brode wants to lean on the run. The same can be said for guys like juniors Aiden Stanke and Cayden Mitchell when the Blue Jays want to attack teams through the air.
“If we go heavy to the pass, that’s okay because we really believe in Alex and our receivers,” Brode said. “But if we go the other way, we have running backs that I feel confident in as well. When these guys have gotten their name called, they’ve made the most of it.”
So far this season the Blue Jays have scored 126 total points, averaging 31.5 points per game, and they’ve won games both through the air and on the ground.
In their thrilling victory over Western Reserve, the Blue Jays rushed for two touchdowns — White scored on a 78-yard run and Schiavi punched one in from one yard out — Samuel Conn kicked a field goal and Schiavi then secured the victory with a 45-yard pass to Stanke in the fourth quarter.
Earning the victory was big for the Blue Jays.
“It gives us confidence,” Brode said. “It tells us that we can play a team that is supposed to beat us, or has beaten us 12 out of 13 times in the last 15 years. It shows that we are pretty good too. We had that lack of confidence a little bit last year, but after a win like that it can boost our confidence moving forward and we need confidence to play a team like Lowellville.”
It will be a battle of the unbeatens tonight in North Jackson as the Blue Jays host the Lowellville Rockets for a 7 p.m. kickoff.
Their matchup could be somewhat of a prove it game for Jackson-Milton and even as the underdog, Brode knows that his team is going to come ready to play.