HOOVER, Ala. -- Central High coaches knew what they were up against in the high-powered Spain Park offense.
After losing 43-13 in the first round of the AHSAA state playoffs, however, a humbled coach Woodrow Lowe was able to offer up even more praise.
"That's a really good football team," the coach said emphatically after the loss, which eliminated the Red Devils from the playoffs, ending their season. "They've got a really, really good quarterback. He's exceptional. He's even more exceptional than I thought he was."
The quarterback he is referring to is senior Nick Mullens who ran the Jaguars' fast-paced aerial attack to perfection, connecting on 13 of 21 passes for 297 yards in only three quarters of play. He led the Spain Park offense, which executed a no-huddle offense nearly the entire game, to a touchdown just one minute, 22 seconds into the game.
The team marched 53 yards on five plays, culminating in a 3-yard touchdown run by Jontez Turner.
On its next drive, Spain Park took over the football at its own 9-yard line. Mullens completed four passes for 50 yards on the drive, which ended in a field goal. And on his fourth drive, Mullens completed a 49-yarder to running back Otis Harris down the sideline to set up a 2-yard touchdown run by Harris on the next play.
Surprisingly, Mullens did not connect for a single touchdown pass. Spain Park scored five touchdowns in the game, all on the ground. Three of those rushing touchdowns belonged to Harris, who finished with 55 rushing yards and 68 through the air.
Turner had two touchdown runs and 39 yards.
Lowe said that despite the difficulty of defending such a strong offense, he wasn't satisfied with his team's level of play.
"We did not play well at all, and that's on me," he said. "We've just got to regroup."
Central had its opportunities on offense early, despite playing the game without its starting quarterback, Jamal Howard.
Howard was out with an unspecified injury, and was replaced by Ethan Baber.
Despite getting relatively little playing time throughout the entire season, Baber played well in a lot of situations for the Red Devils.
After falling behind 10-0, Central went 60 yards in a minute, 18 seconds. Baber connected on back-to-back passes to Traveon Samuel, the second of which was a short route that Samuel turned into a 13-yard gain after dodging multiple defenders.
The Red Devils got into the end zone on a nifty end-around to Samuel, who took the ball up the sideline for a 20-yard score. After falling behind by two more scores, 23-7, Samuel added another touchdown of 13 yards on the ground in the second quarter to cut the Jaguars lead to 23-13.
Baber finished 11 of 20 for 125 yards in the game and hung in the pocket despite facing constant pressure. He was sacked nine times.
"Let me tell you, I am so proud of him," Lowe said of Baber after the game. "And it's just the beginning for him. He hung in there today, and got it under is belt."
After Central cut the lead to 10, it was all Spain Park, which led 30-13 at the half and added 13 more in the third quarter.
Running back Deon Hall ran 19 times for 100 yards in the game for Central.
Samuel, a sophomore for Central, said his team just has to use this game as motivation to work harder going forward.
"We've just got to work hard," said Samuel, who finished with 53 yards rushing and 51 yards receiving. "We need to hit the weight room and work hard."
Friday at Spain Park
Central 7 6 0 0--13
Spain Park 10 20 13 0--43
SP--Turner 3 run (Taylor kick), 10:38
SP--Taylor 33 field goal, 5:29
C--Samuel 20 run (Chancellor kick), :13
SP--Harris 2 run (Taylor kick), 11:38
SP--Harris 7 run (kick failed), 8:45
C--Samuel 13 run (kick failed), 6:15
SP--Turner 3 run (Taylor kick), 2:37
SP--Harris 2 run (Taylor kick), 10:11
SP--Streeter 7 run (kick failed), 7:36
Records: Central (7-4); Spain Park (9-2). Next: Central, season over; Spain Park, Friday vs. Foley in AHSAA second round