Spain Park run ends with loss to Gadsden City in Class 6A quarterfinals

Spain Park High School senior quarterback Graham Craig and senior wide receiver Daniel Watkins hooked up plenty of times for touchdowns during the 2009 season.

Craig and Watkins embraced in tears Friday night during the post-game speech from head coach David Shores following a game against Gadsden City at Jaguars Stadium in the Alabama High School Athletic Association Class 6A quarterfinals.

Unfortunately, they were tears of disappointment, rather than tears of joy, following the Jags’ 49-32 loss to the Titans. Spain Park finished the 2009 season with a 10-3 record, but Craig said he and his teammates feel the season ended prematurely.

“I think we exceeded everybody’s expectations but our own,” said Craig, who threw two touchdown passes and five interceptions in the loss. “We would have loved to have gone further, but it was an awesome year.”

Spain Park owned the Titans in the first half and it looked like the Jags would continue their run of shutouts. The Jags held Gadsden City to 30 yards of total offense in the first half as Spain Park jumped out to a 10-0 lead.

The second half was a different story. An athletic Gadsden City defense began to put pressure on Craig, which resulted in key turnovers at inopportune times. The Titans racked up 241 offensive yards in the second half, which included a key injury to senior linebacker Zach Olinger in the third quarter.

The Jags went up 24-7 midway through the third quarter before Gadsden City took over. The Titans scored 28 unanswered points, including the go-ahead touchdown with 27 seconds remaining in the third quarter. The Jags rallied to cut the lead to 35-32 with 7:08 left in the game, but Craig had a pass intercepted and returned 103 yards for a touchdown, which sealed the win for Gadsden City.

“So much of high school football has to do with momentum,” said Spain Park head coach David Shores. “We had it going into halftime. A long run in the third quarter swung it their way. We tried to get it back, but the turnovers hurt us. We didn’t execute very well.”

The Jags scored first on a 6-yard touchdown run by DaRon Smith and Justin Lumpkin added the extra point to give the Jags a 7-0 lead with 8:12 remaining in the first quarter. Smith’s scoring run capped a 95-yard opening drive by Spain Park.

Following a three-and-out by Gadsden City, the Jags drove down the field before stalling inside the red zone. Jake Hoffman nailed a 36-yard field goal as time expired in the first quarter to give Spain Park a 10-0 lead.

The Jags closed the first half with an interception by senior linebacker Wilson Robinson, which ended a 39-yard drive by the Titans late in the opening half.

Gadsden City’s Antavio Smith scored on an 83-yard touchdown run less than a minute into the third quarter to cut the Spain Park lead to 10-7. Watkins reeled in a 35-yard touchdown pass from Craig and Lumpkin added the extra point to push the Jags’ lead to 17-7 with 8:20 left in the third quarter.

Senior Jake Lee caught a 52-yard touchdown pass from Craig and Lumpkin added the extra point to extend the Spain Park lead to 24-7 midway through the third quarter.

Gadsden City came storming back with three touchdowns in the final six minutes of the third quarter to take a 28-24 lead into the final quarter.

Gadsden City added another touchdown early in the fourth quarter. The Jags responded with a nine-play, 89-yard drive, with Craig completing 5-of-7 passes for 87 yards. The drive was capped by a 2-yard touchdown run by Lee Mitchell and Josh Drum reeled in a pass from Craig for the two-point conversion, which cut the lead to 35-32 with 7:08 remaining in the game.

Spain Park recovered a fumble by Gadsden City at the Titans’ 12-yard line a few plays later. The Jags’ scoring threat ended when Craig’s pass was intercepted by Denzel Huff and returned 103 yards for a back-breaking touchdown. The Titans would close out the game with another touchdown with 40 seconds left in the game.

Craig said the Gadsden City defense was the most-athletic unit the Jags have faced this season.

“They were very good,” Craig said. “We just didn’t take advantage of opportunities in the second half.”

Despite the loss, Shores said the Jags accomplished a lot of things to be proud of during the 2009 season. The Jags bounced back from a losing record in 2008 to an appearance in the quarterfinal round of the Class 6A playoffs.

“It showed all of our hard work and effort,” Shores said. “We rarely got beat up. I can’t say enough about our senior class.”