Jaguars consider each remaining game a ‘must-win’

By STEPHEN DAWKINS / Staff Writer

HOOVER – Though the regular season is only halfway over, Spain Park High School football coach Shawn Raney wants his team to adopt the postseason mindset that every game is a must-win.

“Basically, I told them that the playoffs start this week,” Raney said.

The Jaguars (3-2 overall, 1-2 in Class 7A, Region 3 play) find themselves needing to win every game left on their schedule to ensure a playoff berth after two consecutive losses.

The setback to cross-town rival Hoover on Sept. 9 was understandable even if hard to swallow. However, Spain Park followed that loss up with a last-second, defeat on homecoming at the hands of Mountain Brook to fall below .500 in region play.

“We lost to two really good teams,” Raney said. “We’re close; we’ve just got to execute better on both sides of the ball and in the kicking game.

“The guys have had a good attitude and are just continuing to get better. I think, mentally, we’re in a good place.”

SPHS had a bye week on Sept. 23.

Raney said the first order of business was rest and recovery, so the players were given a day off on the Sunday after the Mountain Brook game—a day that on a typical week would have been used to watch film, lift weights and run.

After practicing Sept. 20-22, the players were given off until Sept. 26.

Raney said the Spain Park coaches have identified weaknesses during the team’s two losses that will be addressed during the extra practice time.

“We’re kind of going back to the basics and re-teaching some of the things that have been neglected after the initial camp,” Raney said. “I think the kids have responded good to it. It is some small stuff that is fixable.”

Raney said field position has been an issue because of special teams play.

“It seems like we start on the 20 every drive offensively, and defensively we’re starting on the 30 or 40, and that makes a difference,” Raney said and added that kickoffs and punts can be difficult to simulate in practice because coaches are reluctant to let players go “full-speed” for the sometimes dangerous plays.

Allowing explosive plays on defense has also been an issue, Raney said, in part because of the level of competition the Jaguars face on a regular basis.

“You miss a run fit against a really good back, and rather than a six-yard gain it’s a 60-yard touchdown,” he said. “In this region, it’s like that every week. If you’re not doing things right, you get exposed.”

That will be the case again when the Jags next take the field, on Sept. 30 against Huffman.

Raney said the Vikings (2-2, 2-1) are effective running the football with a combination of backs.

“They have a big kid (senior Jacoby Johnson) that the defense gets tired of tackling, and then they have another smaller back (senior Rodarrius Brooks) that is quicker,” Raney said. “It will be a dogfight, like all of them are.”