Spain Park falls to Hoover in tight rivalry battle

Published 10:37 pm Friday, September 8, 2023

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By ALEC ETHEREDGE | Managing Editor

HOOVER – The Spain Park Jaguars were close to one of their biggest wins in years on Friday, Sept. 8, but costly mistakes on special teams and missed opportunities led to a difficult eight-point loss.

The Jags sprinted quickly out to a 7-0 lead on the first drive of the game, but a back-and-forth battle ensued that eventually led to Hoover holding off Spain Park in a 28-20 victory.

“Our kids fought,” head coach Tim Vakakes said. “We kept losing running backs. We came into the game with about one-and-a-half, and those one-and-a-half got hurt early. That took us out of what we wanted to do, and that took us out of what we wanted to do, and that’s kind of how tonight went.”

The run game not working led to a lot on the arm of quarterback Brock Bradley in the game, who made impressive plays throughout, but ultimately, it made the Jags more one dimensional on offense.

Special teams, however, became the deciding factor.

Hoover blocked three kicks, including a field goal in the first half and a key extra point and punt in the second half. The Jags also fumbled a punt deep in their own territory.

Even with the mistakes, the Bucs struggled to capitalize, which left the door open for Spain Park throughout the night, all the way up to the final drive.

Receiving the opening kick, Spain Park started fast with a good kickoff return from Jonathan Bibbs, the Jags converted an early third down on an 11-yard pass to Bibbs, which was followed quickly by back-to-back completions, one to Reggie Jackson that set up a 14-yard touchdown pass from Bradley to Bibbs a play later.

That capped off a quick opening drive for the Jags, who took the early 7-0 lead.

But Hoover had a quick start of its own.

The Bucs responded by converting a third down and a fourth-and-8 before eventually scoring shortly after to even the score at 7-7 with 5:28 left in the opening quarter.

The Jags struggled to get off the field on third and fourth down in the opening quarter, and it became costly again with 56.6 seconds left in the period.

After converting a third down earlier in their second drive, the Bucs added a 21-yard touchdown on third-and-10 to take their first lead of the game at 14-7.

From there, the game shifted into a defensive slugfest between the two for much of the second quarter.

They traded three and outs on the next two drives before then trading interceptions.

Spain Park looked to be in good shape when Chace Wolsoncroft put together a big hit on the Hoover quarterback, sending the ball straight up and back down into the hands of Jared Smith.

Hoover, however, quickly regained possession with an interception of its own on a deep pass into the end zone from Bradley with no Spain Park receivers around.

The Jags were able to force a punt on Hoovers’ ensuing possession, which became key.

Spain Park started its next drive at its own 41-yard line with 4:27 left until the break and marched down the field with big catches from Bo Jones.

Jones caught a third-and-8 pass for 19 yards and a first down and then eventually a third-and-16 pass for a 23-yard touchdown pass after coming down with a jump ball in the end zone to even the score at 14-14 with 1:43 left in the half.

Hoover, however, responded.

After it looked as if Spain Park’s defense had adjusted, the Bucs busted a big run up the middle that led them deep into the Jags’ territory. Shortly after, a wide receiver bubble screen ended with a go-ahead touchdown to put Hoover in front 21-14 at the half.

The second-half opportunities started early for Spain Park, as the Jags used a big hit on the opening kickoff to the half that led to a fumble recovery and set them up with great field position.

The first special teams mistake, however, left points off the board when the field goal was blocked.

The two teams then traded three-and-outs before a Spain Park muffed punt and Hoover turnover on downs continued a half of miscues for both teams.

The Jags, however, put together their best drive since the opening drive of the game late in the third quarter.

Starting at their own 22 with 2:07 left in the period, they converted a big third-and-8 on a pass from Bradley to Bibbs for 23 yards early in the drive.

That led to several big plays in a row, including an eventual fourth-and-1 conversion before Kelby Roberson ran in a 3-yard touchdown to make it 21-20. The missed PAT, however, made left the Jags in a one-point deficit with 11:05 to play.

Spain Park’s defense stepped up with two consecutive stops after that, but the offense couldn’t capitalize.

The Jags got to the other side of midfield on their second-to-last drive, but after a first down, a false start eventually led to fourth-and-17. A blocked punt then set up Hoover at the Spain Park 20-yard line.

The Bucs went on to score a few plays later to make it 28-20 with 2:04 to play.

Spain Park got the ball back at its own 12-yard line looking for a game-tying drive, but after two first downs in four plays, the Jags went backwards and ultimately saw a fourth-and-long pass batted in the air before hitting the turf to cement the eight-point loss.

“Our kids can compete,” Vakakes said. “There’s no doubt. We gotta believe it. We gotta rest up and heal our wounds and get ready to do it again.”

Spain Park was led by Bradley with a 21-31 game for 249 yards and two touchdowns. Bibbs led the team with 134 yards receiving and a touchdown on seven receptions, while Bo Jones added 53 yards and a touchdown on six catches.

The Jags are now 2-1 overall and 0-1 in region play with a home battle against No. 1 Thompson next week.