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Jackson-Milton claims battle of unbeatens, topples Mineral Ridge

Staff photo / Greg Macafee Jackson-Milton's Samuel Conn kicks the game-winning 20-yard field goal as Mineral Ridge's Ian Erb (14) attempts to block it in the waning second of their matchup Friday night. The Blue Jays escaped with a 23-20 victory.

MINERAL RIDGE — It doesn’t always have to be pretty. In Samuel Conn’s case, he was just happy the ball went through the uprights.

With one second on the clock, the senior kicker for Jackson-Milton stepped up to the spot and squeaked a 20-yard, game-winning, field goal through the uprights to lift the Blue Jays (4-0) past Mineral Ridge (3-1) 23-20.

“It’s unimaginable really,” Conn said about his game-winning field goal. “I don’t think there are words that can really explain it. It wasn’t a beautiful kick. But looks don’t matter right?”

With around 10 seconds remaining, Jackson-Milton quarterback Cayden Mitchell hit Aiden Stanke on an out route and the 6-foot-2 wide receiver took the ball down to the four-yard line. Jackson-Milton head coach Nate Brode took off sprinting down the sideline to call a timeout and set up the game-winning field goal.

When he looked toward the scoreboard, the clock read zero but the officials put a second back on the clock to set up the field goal.

“I was running as fast as I could down the sideline and I can’t really run that fast,” Brode said. “I was running from the 35 to where the referee was and couldn’t see the clock because I was running opposite the scoreboard. I was just hoping that I had enough time and he gave it to us.”

The entire game was just as good as the finish as the high-stakes matchup had all the makings of a classic game. Two undefeated teams. Two programs looking to make a name for themselves in the MVAC-Scarlet Tier.

Jackson-Milton threw the first punch on Friday and they had their backs against the wall before doing so.

After trading possessions to start the game, Jackson-Milton took over on their own six-yard line before a false start penalty backed them up to the one. Facing a crucial situation Mitchell rolled out to his right before throwing a strike to Aiden Stanke for a 23-yard gain.

From there, the Blue Jays marched down the field. They converted a 4th-and-3 situation as Mitchell found Stanke for an 11-yard gain. Four plays later Mitchell scored his first of two rushing touchdowns from three yards out.

The Rams didn’t go away though. Mineral Ridge senior running back Ian Erb willed his team to two straight scores to take a 13-7 lead.

After starting quarterback Owen Shingledecker connected with Brady Balestrino on a 3-0 yard strike, Erb found the end zone two plays later from six yards out.

On Mineral Ridge’s next offensive drive, Shingledecker went down with an injury and Erb stepped in under center. He hit Balestrino for a 33-yard pass and then plunged into the endzone past the left pylon from 12 yards out. to give the Rams the lead.

The Rams took a six-point lead into halftime but the Blue Jays came charging out in the second half after making adjustments to their game plan.

On their first drive of the second half, they marched down the field behind a flurry of quarterback keepers. They didn’t score on that first drive but the adjustments were fruitful.

“That was 100 percent a halftime adjustment due to what Mineral Ridge was doing to us,” Brode said. “We had a completely different game plan in the first half. But that’s the nice thing about my staff, they are willing to set egos aside and do what’s best for the kids and the program.”

After stopping the Rams, Vincent Fay returned the ensuing punt to the 22-yard line, putting the Blue Jays in perfect position. Aiden Stanke found the end zone from seven yards out five plays later.

Mitchell then found the end zone from two yards out five minutes later as he capped off an 8-play drive to re-take the lead.

“We just wanted to spread them out because we couldn’t get to the outside,” Stanke said about Jackson-Milton’s second-half adjustments. “They were blitzing a lot, so we just brought it to them straight up the gut.”

The Rams responded in a big way after the score and Jacob Russell led the way. He broke off runs of 18, 24 and 13 yards to start off the drive and propel Mineral Ridge into Blue Jays territory. Erb took over from there as he punched in a quarterback keeper to finish off the drive.

Jackson-Milton went right back to work though. The Blue Jays marched down the field and Conn’s field goal capped off a 13-play drive that ate up the last five minutes of the game.

“This win is right there,” Brode said about where this game ranks on his wins list. “I mean with one second to go, this has gotta be at the top of the list.”

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