Hoover escapes Spain Park in top-6 clash

HOOVER – Visiting Hoover High School scored 10 points in the final 10 minutes of a clash of top 6 football teams to escape with a 27-24 win over Spain Park on Friday, Sept. 15.

The No. 2 ranked Buccaneers (3-1, 2-0 in Class 7A, Region 3 play) used a 199-71 edge in rushing yardage and several clutch catches by George Pickens to overcome a valiant effort by quarterback Braxton Barker and the rest of the No. 6 Jaguars (3-1, 1-1).

Barker completed 22 passes in 35 attempts for 278 yards and two touchdowns.

“They layed their guts on the line,” Spain Park coach Shawn Raney said. “We’ve got some work to do, but we’re on the right track.”

Hoover claimed a 14-10 halftime lead thanks to advantages in field position and the return game.

The night’s first score came on a 58-yard punt return by Pickens in which the junior looked to be stopped before finding a way out of the jam and then outracing the Jaguars with 3:40 left in the first quarter.

SPHS answered with a 70-yard touchdown pass from Barker to Jalen McMillan to tie the game at 7-7 with 1:38 on the clock.

McMillan caught nine passes in the game for 141 yards.

Pickens struck again early in the second quarter when he out-jumped Spain Park defenders for a chunk of his 88 receiving yards in the game.

Larry McCammon III punched it in moments later for a 14-7 Hoover lead with 8:18 to go in the first half.

The Jags answered again, this time with a 30-yard field goal by Cole Starr to cut the deficit to 14-10 with 5:23 remaining in the second quarter.

Hoover kicker Barret Pickering was a factor in the game with long kickoffs that forced Spain Park to start on, at best, its own 20-yard line.

The Bucs, meanwhile, had scoring drives that began on their own 41 and 33 yard lines.

However, Hoover started at its own 3-yard line for the first possession of the second half and drove behind the running of McCammon and Vonte Brackett for a 26-yard field goal by Pickering that extended the lead to 17-10 with 5:58 on the clock in the third quarter.

SPHS answered once again, this time with an 80-yard drive that concluded with a 17-yard pass from Barker to M.J. Rogers with the clock at 4:02.

Junior defensive lineman Cedric Tooson recovered a fumbled exchange on the first play of the ensuing possession, and Spain Park had the lead and the momentum with 2 minutes left in the third when Jalen Henderson sprinted up the middle from 23 yards out, dragging a defender into the end zone to make the score 24-17 Jaguars after Starr’s point-after.

But Spain Park’s defense could not hold back Hoover’s power rushing game, which produced a 35-yard Pickering field goal on the next possession and helped the Buccaneers drive 67 yards for the game-winning score with 1:18 left to play.

The key play in the drive was a 44-yard heave from Jalen Parker to Pickens, who came down with the catch despite being hit by two defenders, on a third-and-25 from the Hoover 31-yard line.

Then, on third-and-10 from Spain Park’s 25, Parker scrambled and found a wide open Shedrick Jackson Jr. near the left sideline, and Jackson fought his way into the end zone for a lead the Bucs would not relinquish as the hosts’ final possession ended with a turnover on downs near midfield.

Josh Wallace led the Spain Park defense with 11.5 tackles.

Hoover now leads the all-time series with its cross-town rival 14-3.

Raney said the Jaguars must not let the heartbreaking loss “beat us twice,” as happened when last year’s loss to Hoover was followed up by a lackluster performance in a setback against Mountain Brook.

Spain Park visits Mountain Brook on Friday, Sept. 22.