Spain Park falls just short in 7A title game
Published 11:12 pm Wednesday, December 2, 2015
By BAKER ELLIS / Sports Editor
TUSCALOOSA – After nearly two weeks away from the field, Spain Park was back in action in the 7A state championship game on Dec. 2 as the Jaguars traveled to Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa to take on an upstart McGill-Toolen team out of Mobile that won just four games a season ago. The Jaguars could not overcome a slow first half offensively, and fell in the state finals despite a late fourth quarter rally by a final of 14-12.
“McGill’s got a great team, really good on defense,” Spain Park head coach Shawn Raney said after the contest. “I thought we struggled offensively, I just thought we were out of our game in the first half. I saw a look in the kid’s eyes in pregame and I kind of saw it through the first half. That’s my job as the head coach to get them ready to play, so I’ll take that.”
The vaunted Jaguars defense that had only given up on average less than 10 points per game before the state championship had serious trouble containing McGill-Toolen in the first half. The Yellow Jackets, who worked exclusively out of the shotgun, as they had all season, let running back Terrell Kennedy go to work in the first two periods. He took the first snap of the Yellow Jackets’ second drive 40 yards around the right tackle down to the Spain Park 15, and five plays later finished the drive with score on a sweep to the left, giving McGill an early 7-0 less than four minutes into the game.
The Jaguar offense struggled mightily all night. The only Spain Park points in the first half came on Spain Park’s third drive of the game. Joey Beatty found his tight end, Will Greene, across the middle on the first play of the drive off a play action pass that froze the McGill corner just long enough to allow Green to find a seam down the middle of the field. The play went for 29 yards and was the longest play from scrimmage of the half for the Jaguars. Larry Wooden worked the ball down to the Yellow Jacket five-yard line before a substitution infraction and a holding call pushed Spain Park out of the red zone. After Beatty took one of his five sacks on the ensuing play, Crosby Gray hit a 37-yard field goal to put Spain Park on the board.
Another Kennedy touchdown, the second time from 54 yards out, gave McGill a 14-3 lead, which it took into the half. The Yellow Jackets outgained Spain Park in the first half by 171 yards, 283-112. Kennedy had more yards in the first half by himself, 166, than Spain Park did cumulatively.
“That guy’s hard to tackle,” Raney said of Kennedy.
At the half, as it has done time and again, Spain Park had to make adjustments.
“I just wanted them to play,” Raney told his team at the half. “I just thought, with the stadium and everything, it wasn’t us (in the first half). It didn’t matter what plays we were calling offensively or defensively, I just think we had to refocus and be the team that we’ve been all year, and I think we did that and that’s what I’m proud of.
While on paper Spain Park and McGill looked similar coming into the game, in reality the two offenses operate differently. The Jaguars limited first half success came primarily on runs between the tackles, while McGill was a little more multi-faceted. Paris Chambers, the McGill quarterback, worked well out of the shotgun beside Kennedy, and ran the option as well as he found receivers time and again on 10-yard out routes that Spain Park couldn’t seem to stop.
In the second half, however, Spain Park came out taking more shots down the field and looked like a different team. In the first two drives Beatty threw three balls farther than he did the entire first half. While neither drive ended in points, it did begin to soften the McGill defense a bit. The MVP of the third quarter for the Jaguars was punter Tyler Sumpter, who forced the Yellow Jackets to start drives inside their own five-yard line twice with his pinpoint accuracy.
Despite the poor field position, McGill began to drive late in the third quarter before a break came for the Jaguars. A fumble, forced and recovered by star linebacker Perry Young, gave Spain Park its first true wave of momentum of the game.
A 16-play drive ensued that ate up over 10 minutes of clock time and ended with a one-yard, fourth-down plunge across the goal line on a quarterback sneak from Beatty to give the Jaguars their first touchdown of the game. Senior running back Wade Streeter carried the ball 12 times on the drive to help set up the score. A failed two-point conversion attempt left the score at 14-9 in favor of McGill with under six minutes to play.
Fourth quarter comebacks have been a staple of this Spain Park team, and the energy in Bryant-Denny could be felt shifting slightly toward the Jaguars. On the first play of the ensuing McGill drive, Spain Park’s Markell Clark recovered a fumble inside the McGill 20-yard line, and it seemed as if the Jaguars were on their way to another thrilling comeback win recovered fumble.
However, the McGill defense held Spain Park to another Gray field goal, which pulled the score to 14-12 with 4:25 left in the game.
Kennedy was able to flip field position on the first play of what turned out to be the final Yellow Jacket drive with a 16-yard run. The Jaguar defense held when it mattered however, and McGill punted away to Spain Park with two minutes left on the clock. The Jaguars promptly turned the ball over on downs however, effectively ending the game.
McGill gained 283 yards in the first half but finished with just 385. Spain Park accumulated 178 yards in total.
The Jaguars finished the season 12-2, and appeared in a state championship game for just the second time in school history. Spain Park also beat Hoover this season for the first time in school history in the regular season, and then beat them again in the 7A semifinals.