When I got assigned to cover the Mill Valley vs. Gardner-Edgerton game on Friday, one of the things I was most curious about leading up to the contest was how crisp the Jaguars would look with only having four starters back from last year’s state championship squad. The Jaguars didn’t jump out of the gate as quickly as they wanted to against the Trailblazers, but they seized control with a 21-point third quarter and never looked back in their 35-14 victory.
As I mentioned in my game story, the Mill Valley defensive line led the charge by consistently applying pressure in the Gardner-Edgerton backfield and forcing a couple of Trailblazer fumbles in their own territory that led to Jaguar touchdowns. I expected the Jaguar defensive line to be a strength for Joel Applebee’s squad, as Aidan Shaffer and Cody Moore accounted for two of Mill Valley’s returning starters.
Still, replacing a defensive tackle the caliber of Ethan Kremer, who won the Buck Buchanan award last year, was no small feat. Grant Rutkowski (five tackles, two sacks, a tackle for loss and a fumble recovery) and Truman Griffith (two tackles, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery) rose to the occasion to more than adequately round out the Jaguars’ front four.
The other position group that I thought could make an immediate impact for the Jaguars this season was their receiving corps. Wide receiver Kendrick Jones and wideout/tight end Jared Napoli are in their third season as starters. Jones hauled in a 6-yard touchdown pass from Hayden Jay and showed off his 6-foot-5 frame by making a highlight reel grab on a 25-yard reception. He finished with three catches for 40 yards to pace the Jaguars.
Napoli only tallied one reception for 12 yards, but he did a lot that didn’t show up in the box score. He had the lead block that sprung Jay free for a 28-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter. Aidan Jacobs added a 30-yard reception that nearly went for a touchdown and Sean Allerheilgen caught two balls for 23 yards.
The Mill Valley receiving corps didn’t put up the video game numbers on Friday that Jaguar fans have been accustomed to seeing in recent years, and the Jaguars still put up 35 points. For context, Mill Valley wide receivers coach Zach McFall highlighted exactly how dominant some of his receivers have been with a season countdown series of Instagram posts.
The Jaguar wideouts made big catches in big spots on Friday (more than half of Jay’s eight completions came on third down), so I wouldn’t be surprised if the numbers for Lewis, Napoli, and company start to tick up as they build chemistry with Jay. However, even if Mill Valley’s current receivers do wind up with anything close to the eye-popping numbers of their predecessors that are outlined above, there’s only one statistic that they and their teammates are focused on.
Those who have closely followed Mill Valley football during Applebee’s tenure might know that the statistic the program has been built upon is 1-0. 1-0 happens to be the Jaguars’ record, but the 1-0 motto focuses on winning each rep in the weight room, on the practice field and carrying over that winning mindset into the classroom and throughout their lives once they graduate from Mill Valley.
After the game on Friday, Applebee, Rutkowski and Jay all emphasized how nice it was to see the hard work that the Jaguars put in over the summer pay off against the Trailblazers. Their 1-0 motto serves as another reminder that even though Mill Valley only has four returning starters, the culture of the program could very well help position the Jaguars to vie for their fifth state title in seven years.