Spain Park rolls in opening-night win at Huntsville

By ALEC ETHEREDGE | Managing Editor

HUNTSVILLE – Nothing about the 2020 high school football season is guaranteed, and on Thursday night, Aug. 20, the Spain Park Jaguars played like it to open the 2020 football season.

Not knowing how long the season will last due to COVID-19, the Jags suited up in their Carolina blue tops and white pants and played game one like it was their last to pick up a dominant 52-21 season-opening victory against the Huntsville Panthers.

“I’m just happy man. I’m real happy that we’re playing,” Spain Park head coach Shawn Raney said after the win. “That was awesome. I didn’t know if that day would come. I told them before the game, ‘I normally tell you I can guarantee you 10 games, but I can only guarantee you one, so let’s go out and play like that,’ and I felt like they did.”

Spain Park racked up 540 yards of offense en route to the win, 391 of which came from the arm of quarterback Bennett Meredith in his first high school start.

The junior finished the game 15-of-21 with four touchdowns and just one interception. Three of those touchdowns came in the first half, while he spread the ball around with four different receivers tallying a touchdown catch.

“First game he’s ever started in high school, so there would probably be some nerves there, but he didn’t show any of it,” Raney said. “He came out slinging it and that’s what we’ve seen from him since his freshman year. We’re real excited about him, and he’s got a lot of people to throw to.”

It didn’t take long for the Jaguars and Meredith to get the scoring started. He and receiver Jaylen Ward quickly showed why each has Division I offers as juniors.

After a 10-yard pass to Ward and a 2-yard run by Justin Pegues on the first two plays of the opening drive, Meredith lofted a pass to Ward streaking up the middle of the field that fell softly into the receiver’s hands before he carried it the rest of the way for a 49-yard touchdown.

That put Spain Park out in front 7-0 less than three minutes into the game following the three-play drive.

The defense then put together another three-and-out, which put a confident offense right back on the field. This time, the Jags needed one more play, but the result was the same.

Following a 40-yard pass from Meredith to David Moultry, Pegues punched in his first touchdown of the night on a 4-yard run to put the Jags in front 14-0.

Huntsville had its first answer of the night on with an 80-yard drive on the ensuing offensive possession, which cut Spain Park’s lead to 14-7 with 4:54 left in the opening quarter.

The Jags couldn’t add another touchdown on their next drive, but following a 15-yard pass to Cooper Kelley and a 29-yard pass to Jaylen Ward, they did get in field goal position.

That set Drake Tabor up for a 42-yard field goal to put the Jaguars in front 17-7 late in the first.

Both teams played hot potato with the football on the next three drives with Spain Park recovering a fumble and then throwing an interception on back-to-back plays.

But after the Jags recovered another fumble two plays later, Meredith hit Kelley for a quick 14-yard pass, which set up Pegues for his second touchdown of the night, this time from 7 yards out, to put the Jaguars up 24-17 with 11:53 left in the half.

Then, after another strong defensive stand, Meredith showcased his arm strength and touch once more.

This time he lofted a bomb down the field for Kelley, who had created plenty of separation to escape for a 70-yard touchdown that put Spain Park on top 31-7 with 9:11 left in the second quarter.

Huntsville’s offense took advantage of a few mistakes by the Jags’ defense on the ensuing drive and ran the ball well to answer and cut the deficit back to 17 at 31-14 with 6:03 left in the half.

But Spain Park came back with the final score of the opening half of the season when Meredith picked up his third touchdown pass of the half, this time to Pegues, who toted the ball across the end zone for his third touchdown of the half.

That put Spain Park in front 38-14 at the halftime break.

Coming out of the break, the Jags got the ball to start the third quarter and looked like a team ready to put the finishing touches on the game early in the second half.

Just like the opening drive of the game, Spain Park quickly put points on the board when Pegues reeled off a 78-yard run on the first play of the half. That was followed Meredith’s fourth-and-final touchdown pass of the game when he hit Moultry for a 9-yard score.

At that point, the Jaguars jumped in front 45-14 and never looked back. They made it 52-14 midway through the final quarter when T’Nazj Means powered in a short touchdown run, while Huntsville added one last score two minutes later to bring the game to its final score of 52-21.

Overall, the offensive explosiveness pleased Raney, but he was impressed by how the defense played forcing three turnovers and several fourth-down stops.

“Our defense kept fighting and we had some good goal-line stands,” Raney said. “They came out with something different than we had seen from them, and you’d see them go down the field and it made you think of last year, but they kept fighting. If they’ll do that, you’ve got a chance because the other stuff we’ll get fixed so that’s exciting.”

Offensively, Ward and Kelley had monster games at receiver with Ward leading the Jags behind 192 receiving yards and a touchdown, while Kelley wasn’t too far behind with 110 yards and a touchdown.

Moultry and Pegues each added a score in the receiving game as well, while Pegues finished with 119 rushing yards on 12 carries and 49 receiving yards with three combined touchdowns.

Spain Park (1-0) will now get set to host Briarwood on Friday, Aug. 28.