Photo by Ted Melton.
Running back Larry Wooden will help power the Jags’ offense as it prepares for a tough September slate.
The Spain Park High School football team will embark on its quest to reclaim the Class 7A, Region 3 title when it opens region play at home against Vestavia Hills High School on Sept. 2. The game marks the first of four region matchups the Jags will play in September. Other opponents include crosstown rival Hoover, Mountain Brook and Huffman.
The Jags started off the season with two non-region games against Gadsden City and Muscle Shoals.
Spain Park went 7-0 in region play in 2015 and clinched the region crown thanks in part to a stout defense and consistent kicking game. Last season, the Jags’ defense pitched three shutouts in the seven-game span, and limited region opponents to 59 points total. Former place-kicker Crosby Gray, meanwhile, lifted Spain Park to a pair of victories by nailing game-winning field goals.
“I think the margin of error in our region, and especially with us, is very small,” Jags head coach Shawn Raney said. “You look at the tight games we won last year, we lost (those) the year before and were 6-4 and did not make the playoffs.”
The Jags will look to duplicate last season’s flurry of region success starting with their matchup against Vestavia Hills. Last fall, Spain Park rolled to a 21-0 win over the Rebels. Perry Young, a former Jag and current University of Cincinnati linebacker, spurred his team to victory with a momentum-shifting field-goal block.
Following their date with Vestavia, the Jags will play one of the most highly anticipated matchups of the 2016 season. On Sept. 9, they will take on Hoover in a rematch of last fall’s 7A state semifinal, which Spain Park won 7-6. The game will be played at Hoover Metropolitan Stadium.
“We just treat it like any other game, and just go out and do what we’ve been doing all year and preparing for all year,” Raney said.
Spain Park stunned Hoover in last fall’s regular season meeting at the Hoover Met. After 13 failed attempts — save a forfeit victory in 2007 — the Jags knocked off the Bucs for the first time in school history. Spain Park’s 17-0 triumph ended Hoover’s 43 game in-state win streak, and it marked the first time the Bucs had been shut out since 1991.
“I love having that on our side,” Jags senior linebacker Houston Hollis said. “It gives a little more motivation to say, ‘Hey, we can go out and do it again.’”
Spain Park will come back Sept. 16, for a home game against Mountain Brook. In their 2015 matchup, former running back Wade Streeter and current running back Larry Wooden carried the Jags to a 21-7 victory. The tandem combined for 167 yards rushing, and Wooden accounted for two of the team’s touchdowns.
Spain Park will have a week off after the Mountain Brook game, but will return to action Sept. 30. The Jags will host Huffman, a team that moved into Region 3 following the most recent wave of AHSAA reclassification. The two teams have never before gone head-to-head on the gridiron. The Vikings qualified for the postseason in 6A last fall for the first time since 2005.