Spain Park dominates Minor on path to Class 6A quarterfinals

Spain Park High School’s matchup with Minor in the second round of the Alabama High School Athletic Association Class 6A playoffs felt like a championship bout between two heavyweights.

After Spain Park’s 14-0 shutout of the Tigers in the Shelby County Reporter Game of the Week, Jags’ senior fullback Lee Mitchell confirmed it.

“We knew they were going to come after us,” Mitchell said. “We brought our A-game and we hit ’em in the mouth.”

Spain Park was physically dominant at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball, which led the Jags to their second-consecutive playoff shutout and a ticket to the Class 6A quarterfinals. Spain Park (10-2) will host Gadsden City (10-2) next Friday night at 7 p.m. at Jaguars Stadium.

The combination of Mitchell, senior DaRon Smith and senior Tamar Mickens was too much for Minor, who couldn’t contain the Jags’ three-headed rushing attack.

Spain Park finished with 320 yards of total offense, with 260 yards coming on the ground. Smith rushed for 115 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries, while Mitchell racked up 112 yards on 17 carries. Spain Park racked up 16 first downs, compared to 10 for Minor.

Spain Park head coach David Shores said the Jags were able to wear down the Minor defense in the second half. The Jags rushed for 59 yards on a drive late in the fourth quarter, which set up a game-sealing 25-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Graham Craig to receiver Jake Lee.

“We started pounding the ball at the end and it wore them down,” Shores said.

The first play of the game set the tone for the rest of the night. Mitchell pounded his way through defenders for a 17-yard gain on the first play from scrimmage. The Jags controlled the clock for most of the opening half with their steady running game.

The Spain Park defense came up with two huge fumble recoveries to stop Minor from gaining any momentum. The Jags recovered a fumble on the first play of Minor’s second offensive possession. Spain Park senior linebacker Zach Olinger recovered another key fumble in the first half, which came just a few plays after Minor threatened with a 57-yard run to reach the Spain Park 15-yard line.

Spain Park finally got on the board midway through the second quarter when Smith scampered down the field for a 55-yard rushing touchdown with 4:44 remaining in the second quarter. Kicker Justin Lumpkin added the extra point to give the Jags a 7-0 lead, which would hold throughout the remainder of the half.

Lumpkin had a chance to extend the lead on the final play of the first half, but his 29-yard field goal attempt came up a few yards shy of the goal posts.

The second half was much like the first, except it was a couple of key fourth-down stops that sparked the Spain Park defense. The Jags forced an incomplete pass on a fourth-and-3 play at its own 30-yard line early in the third quarter to keep the Tigers from threatening. The Spain Park defensive line also came up with a huge stop a few minutes later on a fourth-and-1 quarterback keeper by the Tigers.

“I thought (the defensive stops) were a big deal for us in the third quarter,” Shores said.

The Jags’ dominant rushing game was featured late in the fourth quarter. when Mitchell and Smith combined for the first 59 yards of a 84-yard scoring drive, which was capped by Lee’s touchdown reception with 2:40 remaining in the game. Lumpkin added the point-after-touchdown to push the lead to 14-0.

The 25-yard scoring pass from Craig to Lee sealed the Jags’ spot in the quarterfinal round of the Class 6A playoffs.

“We missed some opportunities early,” Craig said. “Jake made an awesome play.”

Senior defensive tackle Jeremiah Jackson gave credit to the offense for helping the Jags post their second-straight shutout. Spain Park defeated Tuscaloosa County 27-0 in the first round Nov. 6.

“It’s a team effort,” Jackson said. “It’s not the defense doing it on its own. The offense takes a lot of time off the clock and they always break loose at some point.”

The Jags are back in the Class 6A quarterfinals for the first time since a run to the championship game in 2007. The Jags defeated Gadsden City 31-23 in the second round of the Class 6A playoffs in 2007 in the only previous meeting between the schools.