Jags shrug off injury to quarterback, open season with win

HOOVER – Visiting Gadsden City took a 19-14 lead over Spain Park just moments before the home team’s starting quarterback was sidelined with an injury.

What could have turned into a disastrous start to the 2017 season for the Jaguars instead turned into a 31-19 season-opening win on Friday, Aug. 25, that coach Shawn Raney hopes will propel the team to a successful year.

“We’ve got a bunch of different people playing than we’ve had the past few years, but they find a way to win,” Raney said. “That’s a tribute to the program and the coaches coaching them, and I’m just really happy with the way we finished the game.”

Gadsden City senior quarterback Ryan Sparks found Jaylen Cole three times on the opening drive of the second half that ended with a 5-yard pass from Sparks to Cole on third-and-goal with 9:07 on the clock in the second quarter that gave the Titans a 19-14 lead.

Then, when Spain Park starting quarterback Braxton Barker went out with an injury, fans of the home team could understandably have been bracing for the worst.

But backup Mason Pronk, a junior, promptly led the Jags on a 73-yard drive.

A pinpoint pass to Kenyon Hines, who made a falling catch in the back of the end zone on a third-and-goal from the 7-yard line, gave the lead back to the hosts, 21-19 after Cole Starr’s point-after.

“I was really proud of him,” Raney said about the backup quarterback. “He’s going to be a really good player for us.”

Senior defensive lineman Rob Cook then recovered a Gadsden City fumble on the visitors’ 17-yard line, and Starr’s 21-yard field goal made the score 24-19.

Barker was able to return and led Spain Park’s final scoring drive, which culminated in an 11-yard run by D’Arie Johnson with 10:46 remaining in the game.

Barker completed 12 passes in 21 attempts for 142 yards, while Pronk was 3-for-6 for 31 yards.

JoJo Dennis was Barker’s favorite target, finishing with five receptions for 68 yards.

The Titans struck first on a 42-yard pass from Sparks to Jamontavius Woods on fourth-and-5 on the opening possession of the game.

SPHS answered right back with an efficient passing game, option rushing attack and 10-yard scoring strike from Barker to M.J. Rogers with 9:10 on the clock in the first quarter.

The Jaguars took their first lead about 2 minutes into the second quarter on a 17-yard run by Johnson.

Gadsden City scored before halftime on a Sparks pass to Jaelyn Fleming, who reached behind his body while sprinting across the middle, spun with the catch then outraced defenders for 40 yards.

The point-after attempt was missed, leaving the score 14-13 in favor of Spain Park at halftime.

Raney said the team’s many inexperienced players improved through the course of the game.

“We’re inexperienced on defense, and I think it showed early,” Raney said. “We got beat on some big plays, but I thought we settled down.

“Offensive line was a question mark, but they got better as the game went along.

Spain Park outgained Gadsden City 425 yards to 400 yards.

While the Jags outrushed their visitors 252 yards to 154 yards behind 100-yard games from Johnson (104 yards on 20 carries) and Jalen Henderson (101 on 20 carries), the Titans had a 246-173 edge through the air.

Jaden Jenkins led the SPHS defense with six tackles.