MILTON — We all know the cliche, those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it.
So when Nativity BVM took an early lead on Milton in the teams’ season opener, Black Panthers coach Phil Davis had an awful flashback.
In 2018, Milton felt it had a chance to take a step forward, but it dropped a one-point game to Shamokin in Henry Hynoski’s debut as Indians coach. The Black Panthers finished the season a disappointing 2-8.
“I think if we get that (win) — and we don’t get two key kids hurt — it’s a different year that year, which, in turn, could have made things different moving forward,” Davis said. The Black Panthers are 1-16 the last two seasons.
“We faced some adversity in Week One,” he continued, “and, to be quite honest, I thought back to that game (against Shamokin).”
However, Davis knew the work this year’s Milton team put in this summer. and although many of the current Black Panthers were in middle school for that game three years ago, many have suffered through the recent 1-16 stretch.
“It started this spring and summer. We had a lot guys in the weight room, throwing around weight,” Milton quarterback/safety Xzavier Minium said. “We are lot more confident than we used to be.”
“We’ve just responded to everything better this season. Last year, it seemed like at times we weren’t the best at overcoming when a bad play happened,” Milton sophomore offensive lineman Hunter Zettlemoyer said. “This year we are a different team. Now, if somebody scores or hits a big play, we are, ‘You may have got us this time, but we’re going to get you the next two times.’”
The Black Panthers quickly proved as much in their season-opening win.
Nativity beat Pottsville in its opener last year, and it was a preseason Class A honorable mention team in the pennlive.com state poll. So a quick 7-0 lead for the Hilltoppers on their home field would normally foreshadow another Milton loss, but it didn’t.
The Black Panthers running game — behind Minium, playing a new position at quarterback, and freshman Chris Doyle — led them to the victory.
“I thought if we found a way (to bounce back) it could be different,” Davis said. “We did find a way, and this team is different. We have a lot more confidence.”
Coupled with last week’s victory over Warrior Run, Milton is 2-0 for the first time since 2000 with a game against winless Holy Redeemer tonight at Danville High School.
“We are more of a team this year. It’s not just receivers and receivers talking to each other, and linemen with linemen at practice,” Minium said. “It’s a lot more a family.”
Milton’s has already scored 84 points this season — second most in the area behind Danville’s 104 — a huge improvement from last year’s team which didn’t score more than once in a game until beating winless Warrior Run 20-0 in the final game of the season.
Minium and Doyle have provided the spark on offense. Minium hadn’t played quarterback since junior high.
“It’s been an adjustment; I still have some things to work on,” said Minium. “I enjoy having the ball in my hands, and I think it gives other teams problems.”
Doyle has been a revelation as a freshman back for the Black Panthers. He’s topped 150 yards in each of his two games, gaining 158 with three scores against Nativity and 187 yards and two TDs against Warrior Run.
The soft-spoken freshman admitted dealing with some nerves before the opener.
“I feel like I came in wanting to join the team, and make this team different,” Doyle said. “I was nervous, but I was also confident.”
“We are fortunate enough to have several playmakers on offense,” Davis said. “Let’s not kid anyone, though. The key to success on offense is offensive line, and our offensive line has played well.”
That may come as a surprise to some as the Black Panthers’ offensive line returned just one starter — Zettlemoyer. The unit’s success goes back to the work in the weight room in the offseason.
“We were out here all summer long in the heat, then into the weight room to work” Zettlemoyer said. “It’s also just the not wanting to lose anymore, and wanting to be a better football team. I think that’s what’s really driving this team ...
“And the want to just be better football players.”