Schedule Breakdown: Spain Park gears up to make big strides against tough region

Published 6:44 pm Friday, August 4, 2023

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By ANDREW SIMONSON | Sports Editor

While last year was a rebuilding year for the Spain Park Jaguars, that effort has paid off, and the Jags enter 2023 full of optimism that they could break out this year.

Much of that is because of coach Tim Vakakes, who has rebuilt a strong culture at Spain Park in just his second season, but part of that is because of a schedule that, while it poses its challenges, presents many opportunities to take a step towards a return to the postseason.

First, Spain Park will travel to Calera to face the Eagles on Aug. 25. Last year, Spain Park entered this matchup with a new head coach, but this year, it will be Calera’s turn to have a new coach in charge as Jerad Holder will face the Jags for his first game as a head coach. Spain Park will enter as the bigger, more physical and more experienced team, and they will need to put all of that to good use against Calera’s speed and athleticism.

Next, the Jags will face a foe from just down the road when Briarwood visits on Sept. 1 for Spain Park’s home opener. Both teams know each other well from sharing the same community, and it will especially be interesting to see how Spain Park’s offense stacks up against Matthew Forester’s defense for the Lions.

That will be the first part of a three-game homestand to open the season, but the challenge increases for the next two games. First, local rival Hoover will pay Spain Park a visit on Sept. 8. Even though Hoover won the area championship last year, the Jags played the Bucs closer than many people thought last year in a 24-10 loss to Hoover. It just goes to show that preseason predictions and win-loss records mean little in rivalry games, especially in ones as intense as this. With all of Spain Park’s improvements from last year, expect this to potentially be a great close game.

Then, Spain Park will square off with Thompson on Sept. 15 to wrap up their homestand. Obviously, Thompson is Thompson and will enter this game as the favorites thanks to their four-straight state championships and exceptional talent on both sides. However, games like these always present Spain Park with an opportunity to make a statement about where their program is, and who better to do it against than the Warriors?

Afterwards, the Jags will hit the road to close out the month when they take on Vestavia Hills on Sept. 22. If both teams live up to their preseason hype, this could be one of the biggest games in Region 3 this year since Vestavia took fourth place in the region last year to make the playoffs, and Spain Park could be in a position to challenge them. If the Jags want to take this game, however, that starts with shutting down Vestavia’s offense, which put up 35 points on Spain Park last year. However, Spain Park’s defense should be well situated to be more competitive this time around, which could make all the difference.

After a bye week to rest, reevaluate and heal up on Sept. 29, the Jags will travel to Tuscaloosa County on Oct. 6. This was another close loss for Spain Park last year as they fell to the Wildcats 38-28. With a more potent defense and an improved offense, look for Spain Park to potentially flip this result from 2022 as they continue their quest to climb up the region.

Then, Spain Park will battle Chelsea at home on Oct. 13. It’s always a competitive and intense contest whenever these two rivals separated by just a small stretch of Highway 280 clash. Both teams have shown tremendous promise and great culture changes since coaches Vakakes and Todd Cassity came to the county last year, and they should both continue to be closely matched sides in this year’s showdown.

After that, Spain Park will go on the road to play Hewitt-Trussville on Oct. 20. The Huskies will always be a challenging team, especially towards the end of the season when everyone hits their stride, but the boost that comes from good late season form could also benefit the Jags. Their defense held Hewitt closer than other teams in their region did last year, and if they enter this contest better than last year and with a push for the playoffs on their minds, this could be a trap game for the Huskies and a great opportunity for the Jags.

Spain Park will then close out their region schedule against their biggest rival: Oak Mountain on October 27, in what could be one of the biggest games of the season. These geographically close sides know each other better than anyone, which is part of the reason they played such a close game last year in a 9-3 battle. This could also be one of the most evenly matched games of the final week of the region, which increases the stakes of an already big rivalry should either side be in playoff positioning and makes this game one of the most anticipated on the schedule.

Finally, Spain Park will take on Pelham in their final regular season game on Thursday, Nov. 2. While some teams in their region might use this as a bye week, the Jags will battle a Pelham side that is a perennial playoff team in 6A. The fact that they share a county will obviously add more to this matchup, but if both teams are in the playoffs by this point, each side will definitely look to make a statement in this game to carry momentum into the postseason.