Jags win region title on senior night
By CLAYTON HURDLE/For the Reporter
HOOVER — The Spain Park Jaguars are AHSAA Class 6A Region 4 champions after a convincing 34-13 win over the visiting Stanhope Elmore Mustangs.
Taking a 7-6 lead into halftime, Otis Harris and the Spain Park offense jumped out to a 20-6 lead with a minute and a half remaining in the third quarter of senior night for the Jags.
“At halftime, I’m thinking ‘here we go again,’” head coach Shawn Raney said of his team’s tendency to play in close games. “They came out and played much better in the second half.”
Senior Thomas Taylor contributed two field goals in the third quarter, and kicked four touchbacks in the period to keep the Mustangs at bay.
Taylor’s first field goal of the night, a 37-yarder, came at the 7:11 mark and put Spain Park ahead 10-6. He gave the Jags a seven-point lead with a massive kick from 42 yards out with just over four minutes remaining in the period.
“I’ve been working hard to do my job for the team,” Taylor said. “All that matters is helping the team win.”
After a four-play Stanhope drive stalled with a punt, Harris and the Jaguar running backs went to work on an 85-yard drive. The eighth play of the drive was an eight-yard rushing touchdown for the senior.
The drive put the momentum strongly in the Jags’ favor, until Mustang quarterback Jaryus Wilson took an option read 80 yards to pay dirt on Stanhope Elmore’s next play from scrimmage.
The Mustangs recovered an ensuing onside kick, and were on the doorstep to tie the game until defensive back A.J. Smiley intercepted Wilson’s pass at the Spain Park 22 yard line.
Seniors Austin Haight and Will Murray led the next Spain Park defensive stand, before Harris scored his last regular season home touchdown from five yards out with 7:32 left in the game.
The second Harris touchdown of the night capped a 74-yard, 10-play drive, and put the Jags up 27-13. 62 yards of the drive came on Harris’ legs.
“The last time to play on this field, it feels great,” Harris said. “It’s good to get the senior night win.”
Harris finished the game with 233 rushing yards.
To ice the game, Spain Park’s defense forced the Mustangs’ second turnover of the night when senior defensive end Isaac Ephraim strip-sacked Wilson inside the Jaguar 10 yard line.
Fellow senior Murray scooped up the ball to score a defensive touchdown and take a 34-13 lead at the fourth quarter’s midpoint.
“I have to give all the credit to Isaac for making that fumble,” Murray said. “It was easy.”
The Jaguars have now won two straight region titles, ensuring at least one more home game for Spain Park in the postseason. The Jags will travel to Pelham next week to finish out region play.
“I’m so proud of our kids,” Raney said. “We’ve just got to keep it going, keep the same things working.”