Jags score once to down Huntsville

Published 11:49 pm Thursday, October 30, 2008

Spain Park labored to a 7-0 homecoming win over Region 8 champion Huntsville Friday night, closing the season with three straight wins.

Spain Park’s best offense was punting the ball to Huntsville’s Darryl Martin, who fumbled four times. The Jaguars capitalized once, and that was enough in a contest pocked with mistakes.

Keylan King recovered a Martin fumble at Huntsville’s 43-yard line and Graham Craig threw to Garrett Grisham for 26 yards down the left sideline on the next play, the first of Spain Park’s two first downs in the first half. Grisham set up junior DaRon Smith’s 1-yard touchdown run and Spain Park scored the game’s only points with 1:16 left in the second quarter.

“It was a boot to the left and I had a post corner and I stuck it,” Grisham said of his catch. “The corner sat, didn’t jam me or anything, and the safety sat as well. I knew it was going to be close with the boundary and I knew I had to get my feet in. We’d just been struggling all night and I felt like I had to make a big play. I hadn’t made as many big plays as I should’ve this year being a senior.”

Grisham’s catch accounted for more than a third of Spain Park’s total offense (66 yards). The teams combined for 11 fumbles and eight turnovers — the Jaguars rushed 25 times and lost 24 yards. But the win gave Spain Park (4-6, 3-5) three consecutive one-score victories to close the season.

“The last three weeks haven’t always been pretty, but they found a way to win,” head coach David Shores said.

Penalties erased two long Spain Park touchdown passes in the second half. Craig threw a 51-yard touchdown to Jake Lee (brought back by an illegal procedure) and threw a 73-yard touchdown to Daniel Watkins (brought back by an illegal shift).

The Jaguars seemingly ended the game when Lee recovered a Martin fumble with 1:51 left, but running back Alton Daniel fumbled the ball right back to Huntsville (7-3, 7-1). The Panthers drove to the Spain Park 19 before turning the ball over on downs with 55 seconds remaining.

“Ever since the first couple series I knew that defense was going to determine this game,” said John Peeks, who had a sack and a fumble recovery. “We started off the year with a shutout and we ended the year with a shutout. I couldn’t ask for anything more my senior year.”

Huntsville, the team Shores called the best in northern Alabama, flashed a physical defensive front but couldn’t get anything accomplished on offense. A 39-yard third quarter field goal try fell well short and may have been tipped, preserving the shutout. Neither team could hold onto the football.

“We’re a fifth seed here and we knock off a one seed out of Huntsville so that says a lot about our kids and this region,” Shores said.

Spain Park played in the state championship game in 2007 but graduated 44 seniors. Still, the Jaguars expected a return to the playoffs after beating Homewood 21-0 to open the season. Spain Park lost its next six games, falling out of playoff contention before ending the year with three wins.

“It’s been a tough season. After the first win we thought we were pretty good and we had some tough losses, and then we got Vestavia and Hoover back-to-back. That’s a tough schedule for anybody,” Grisham said.

After the game, Shores congratulated the team on their finish and dwelled on the positive, just as he had clapped after the two touchdown-nullifying penalties. “It’s not how you start, it’s how you?” Shores asked the huddled team three times. The answer, of course, was “finish,” something Spain Park was able to do against Huntsville.

“We just wanted to go out in style with these seniors and give them the best farewell we could, and build a foundation for these kids coming back next year,” Shores said. “You can’t always have a great season, you know.”