Spain Park falls in heartbreaker at Hoover

Spain Park High School running back DaRon Smith walked gingerly on a sprained ankle.

Fellow running back Lee Mitchell spent time flat on his back with an IV connected to his arm. Receiver Jake Lee sat in a chair and prayed as Hoover charged down the field on a final drive. Lee walked off the field trying to rip his facemask off his helmet after watching Hoover kicker Larsen Real nail a game-winning 29-yard field goal with three seconds remaining.

It all set the scene for a devastating 24-21 loss for the Jaguars. After giving up 24 unanswered points in the second half, including 17 in the fourth quarter, heartbreak crept in as the final second rolled off the clock. The Jags led 21-0 at halftime.

Spain Park head coach David Shores summed it up a few minutes later.

“We’re not into moral victories,” Shores said.

The loss snapped Spain Park’s eight-game winning streak dating back to the 2008 season. The Jags fell to 5-1 overall and 4-1 in Class 6A, Region 6.

The ending didn’t match the beginning.

Spain Park opened the game with a dominating 17-play, 80-yard drive that stalled at the Hoover 1-yard line. It didn’t take long for the Jags to get on the board, however, as Daniel Watkins caught a 40-yard pass from Lee on a trick play and Justin Lumpkin added the extra point to give Spain Park an early 7-0 lead.

After Chris Humes intercepted a pass by Hoover quarterback Ryan Carter, Spain Park scored again early in the second quarter on a 22-yard pass from quarterback Graham Craig to Lee to put the Jags up 14-0 with Lumpkin’s extra point. Craig scored on a 1-yard touchdown run late in the second quarter to push the lead to 21-0 at halftime.

The Jags controlled the line of scrimmage in the first half, rushing for 160 yards. Mitchell led the way with 60 yards in the first half. Tamar Mickens added 46 yards.

The successful first half eventually wore down the Jaguars. Mitchell suffered from cramps throughout the second half and Smith twisted his ankle, leaving the Spain Park three-headed rushing attack down to one man. The Jags couldn’t move the ball on offense, while the defense had trouble containing Carter after forcing him to throw three interceptions in the first half.

“We couldn’t get to (Carter) and that caused problems for our secondary,” Shores said.

Caleb Sims scored on a 1-yard touchdown run on the opening drive of the second half for the Bucs. Josh Magee had a 38-yard touchdown pass from Carter and Sims scored on another 1-yard touchdown run to tie the game at 21-all. After a Spain Park three-and-out, Hoover picked up four first downs on the final drive to set up Real’s 29-yard field goal.

Shores was disappointed the Jaguars couldn’t find a way to hold on for a win after a 21-point halftime lead.

“We talk about finishing all the time,” Shores said. “We talked about it at halftime tonight. We just didn’t finish.”

Shores said he felt the injuries to the Jags’ running backs was the difference in the second half.

“We ran out of steam,” Shores said. “We couldn’t run the ball in the second half. We dominated for a half tonight.”

Shores and the Jags must regroup with another Class 6A, Region 6 battle with heavyweight Vestavia Hills Oct. 9. Despite the loss to Hoover, Shores said Spain Park still has plenty of reasons to be optimistic.

“We know we’ve got potential if we play a full four quarters,” Shores said.