Photo by Dan Starnes
It all comes down to this.
No more waiting. No more elimination games. No more win or go home.
This time, on the state’s biggest stage, it’s simply winner take all.
On Wednesday night in Tuscaloosa, Spain Park (12-1) will put its championship aspirations on the line against a McGill-Toolen (12-1) squad whose path to the Class 7A State Championship Game closely resembles its own.
Although the Jags and Yellow Jackets have never clashed on the gridiron, it’s safe to say few would have predicted the inaugural matchup would come this season under the bright lights of Bryant-Denny Stadium.
It was just one year ago that both teams missed the playoffs altogether, compiling a combined 10-10 record.
In coach Shawn Raney’s second year guiding the program, the Jags went 6-4 overall and 3-4 in region play. Likewise, 2014 saw the Yellow Jackets, under the direction of first year coach Caleb Ross, go 4-6 overall with a 3-5 record in the region.
The 2015 season, however, has been a much different story for both sides.
With the state final yet to be played, Spain Park has already doubled its win total from last season, while McGill-Toolen has tallied thrice the number of victories from 2014. And, on the way to achieving such unprecedented improvements, each team rolled through region play undefeated, accumulating 7-0 (Spain Park) and 8-0 (McGill-Toolen) records.
Despite constructing such stunning seasons, both teams also don an identical blemish: one loss to a Class 6A team.
Spain Park’s lone defeat came on the first week of the season to Austin High School, a triple-overtime thriller, while McGill-Toolen fell to Mattie T. Blount High School in Week 6. Surprisingly enough, each team lost by only a three-point margin, with Spain Park falling 38-35 and McGill-Toolen falling 17-14. To note, both Austin and Blount advanced to the 6A state playoffs, with Austin making it all the way to the semifinal round.
Although Spain Park has won 12 straight since its opening defeat, the Jags’ defense has particularly buckled down over the previous eight games, allowing only 46 points in that span. Since surrendering 28 points to Hewitt-Trussville on Sept. 18, opposing offenses have been held to 10 points or less in every game, including through the first three rounds of the playoffs.
Peering into the past, Spain Park’s only other state final appearance was in 2007, a 14-0 loss to Prattville. Of course, had Prattville lost in the 6A semifinal that year, the Jags would have faced none other than McGill-Toolen, which lost to Prattville 21-0 the week before.
Significantly, 2007 represents the only other year either team has ever totaled a 13-win season. A triumph on Wednesday by either side would push that tally to two.
This will be the first time Spain Park is playing away from Jaguar Stadium since Oct. 16, when the Jags clinched the 7A Region 3 title with a win over Oak Mountain at Heardmont Park. Even though the game will be played at a neutral site, Spain Park has been designated as the visiting team.
Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m., with the visiting team Walk of Champions slated for 5:15 p.m. in front of Bryant-Denny Stadium. Tickets are $12 in advance and $15 at the gate.