Jaguars get back on track before playoffs

HOOVER – Spain Park’s football team built some needed momentum for the playoffs with a 49-14 win over Minor on Thursday, Nov. 2.

The Jaguars (6-4 overall and 3-4 in Class 7A, Region 3 play) had earned a playoff berth but gone 2-4 since a 3-0 start.

Coach Shawn Raney said he played the role of “Dr. Raney Child Psychologist” leading up to the game, showing players film of games from the beginning of the season so they could see how they responded positively to adversity—a trait missing during their recent slump.

The team that played with emotion and enjoyed success because of it showed up against Minor (4-6, 2-4 Class 6A, Region 6).

“Our kids had fun,” Raney said. “We hadn’t had fun in about four weeks.”

Their response to adversity was tested early, as Minor’s Justin McConnico passed over the middle to Delonte Evans on the first play of the game, and Evans sprinted through the SPHS defense for an 80-yard touchdown, which made the score 7-0 after 12 seconds of game time along with James Webb III’s point-after.

Spain Park answered with a methodical 65-yard drive that relied heavily on the rushing of Jalen Henderson and D’Arie Johnson, who scored from two yards out with 7:17 remaining in the first quarter.

Cole Starr’s extra point tied the game at 7-all.

“Our kids never wavered,” Raney said about giving up the early score.

A sack by Josh Wallace helped force a punt on Minor’s next possession, and Spain Park scored touchdowns on five of its six first-half possessions.

Braxton Barker passed 32 yards to M.J. Rogers to give the Jags the lead, and then it was Barker rolling right and throwing to JoJo Dennis from seven yards out.

After its only punt of the game, Spain Park finished the first half scoring on a 50-yard pass from Barker to Jalen McMillan and a one-yard run by Johnson that was set up by a fumble forced by Cedric Tooson and recovered by Kameron McDaniel deep in Minor territory.

The second half was more of the same, as the Jaguars scored on a 71-yard screen to McMillan and a 49-yard pass from Barker to Kenyon Hines.

Barker completed 15 passes in 18 attempts for 294 yards and five touchdowns.

McMillan caught four passes for 140 yards.

Henderson rushed 14 times for 78 yards as the Jaguars piled up 398 yards and 20 first downs.

The SPHS defense, meanwhile, held Minor to 261 total yards and 14 first downs a year after the Tigers put up 42 points on the Jaguars in a losing effort.

Clay Christian led the way with four tackles, while Tooson and Dre Robinson each had 1.5 sacks, and McDaniel had an interception.

As the No. 4 seed in its region, Spain Park will visit top-seeded Hewitt-Trussville in the first round of the state playoffs on Friday, Nov. 10.

Raney said the performance against Minor was needed heading into the postseason, and a challenging regular season schedule should help also.

“I think we’re battle-tested playing in this region,” he said.

Photos available at http://www.shelbycountyphotos.com/