By D. Mark Mitchell
Opelika opened the 2017 football season with a trip to 7A rival Smiths Station Friday night. There were many firsts in this game.
This was the first game for Caleb Ross as the head football coach at Opelika. Hired in May to replace Brian Blackmon, Ross comes to Opelika with an impressive resume that includes one 7A AHSAA Super 7 football State Championship in 2015 and a runner-up finish in the Super 7 last season at McGill-Toolen.
This was the first game for many players in all three phases of the game on offense, defense and special teams. On the offensive and special teams, it was the first start for quarterback Cade Blackmon, offensive linemen James Dawson and Blake Landers, running back Conner Smith, place kicker Tyler Sellers and punter Dalton Cooper. The defense saw several first time starters, including defensive linemen Callahan Saggus and Tylik Jackson, linebackers Corbin Nunn and Jaquan Foote, and safeties Kory McCoy and Jalen Stinson.
In the game, Opelika scored 51 points, with 45 of those coming in the first half, while holding SSHS scoreless.
The Dawgs started fast, scoring six touchdowns and making a field goal in the first half.
Cade Blackmon started the scoring with a touchdown pass to Omar Holloway for 8 yards. Connor Smith ran 4 yards for the second TD, Tyler Sellers booted a 43-yard field goal, Smith added a 5-yard run for a score, Kani Kellum scored on a 15-yard run and Jamias Presley returned a punt 57 yards for a TD. The last score came with 3 seconds left in the first half, as Blackmon was scrambling out of the pocket and threw a 25-yard strike to Omar Holloway in the front corner of the end zone for the sixth TD of the half. Tyler Sellers added all six PATs.
Blackmon finished the game 9 of 12 for 117 yards in two quarters of play. Second-team quarterback Brody Davis was 7 of 8 for 76 yards in the second half. Connor Smith rushed for 72 yards while Kani Kellum added 56 yards on the ground. The defense was led by CJ Torbert’s 8 tackles, Quin Thomas’ 7 tackles and Callahan Saggus’ 4 tackles.
The defense dominated the Panthers from start to finish. The Dawgs did not allow Smiths Station on our side of the 50-yard line until the second half. SSHS could not run or throw against the OHS defense, no matter the down or distance.
Coach Ross pulled his starters and played the substitutes in the second half. Smiths Station chose to use a new rule adopted by the AHSAA, letting the clock run continuously in the second half. This shortened the game. The Dawgs scored one TD in the second half, as Kani Kellum ran seven yards for a score.
Opelika did not dress starting tailback Branton Barnett. The junior sat out of all scrimmages this fall due to a nagging injury. Barnett is expected to return soon.
Opelika (1-0) host arch rival Auburn (1-0) Friday night at Bulldog Stadium, with kickoff set for 7 pm. The two teams will play for the 92nd time, Opelika leads the series 46-42-3 all time and is currently riding a three-game win streak.
AHS opened the season with a 27-0 win over Carver (Montgomery) at Duck Samford Stadium last Friday night. Auburn High’s head football coach Adam Winegarden is 16-9 overall and 0-2 against OHS, and is in his third year as head football coach and director of football operations.
The Tigers used a balance attack to beat Carver, rushing for 140 yard and passing for 181 yards last Friday at Duck Samford Stadium.
Auburn returns two explosive offensive players. Senior quarterback Brooks Fuller, who committed to play baseball for Auburn University, and running back Garrett Morris both started last year for the Tigers. Morris, who rushed for over 1,700 yards, led AHS to an 8-4 record and a trip to the playoffs.
Winegarden named Patrick Plot defensive coordinator in the off season. Plot, a former head coach at Greenville and Pickens County, followed Winegarden to AHS.
Opelika High School administration is expecting a hard sellout Friday night at Bulldog Stadium.
As you read, neither team allowed a point and won their opener handily last week. This week’s game will be different for many reasons.
The two teams are 6-6 against each other in the last 12 games. Since 2008, two games have been decided by more than 6 points. One of those games came last year, a 28-0 Opelika shutout win at Duck Samford. The last eight Opelika head football coaches have lost their first game against Auburn.
What does this mean? Absolutely nothing. It is interesting statistical information that is good for a conversation.
This year’s Auburn v. Opelika football game will be decided on the turf at Bulldog Stadium. The two team’s players and coaches will determine who wins.
Opelika must win the offensive and defensive lines of scrimmage. We must be able to run the football and keep Auburn from running the football. If the Bulldogs are able to run the football, this will take pressure off the inexperienced Blackmon. Blackmon has proved he can play in big games when he played the second half of the 6A Championship game against Ramsey last December.
If the Dawgs have success rushing, look for Coach Ross to open up the offense. Wide receivers Jordan Heard, Omar Holloway and CJ Jordan will battle against an experienced group of players in Auburn’s secondary.
Look for Auburn to try to loosen up the Opelika defense by allowing quarterback Brooks Fuller to throw deep. The Dawgs are talented in the secondary but start two sophomore players.
This will be a classic game and two class programs battling for bragging rights. The two head coaches will do what is best for their team to win!
I predict Opelika wins their fourth straight over AHS.
LISTEN TO THE GAME ON WKKR 97.7 KICKER FM
Fans can listen to the OHS/AHS Friday night by tuning in 97.7 Kicker fm or online at kickerfm.com, and clicking “listen Live”. The broadcast starts with the Coach Ross pregame show at 6:30 p.m. and kickoff at 7. You can hear Coach Ross live after the game on his postgame show.
The Opelika broadcast team of D.Mark Mitchell, Jeff Sasser, Coach Larry Gore and Mason Black will bring you all of the action.
Fans attending the game are asked to purchase tickets in advance. Opelika fans can purchase tickets for $7 each at Bubba’s Medicine Shop, Victory Designs and O-Town Ice Cream through noon Friday. AHS fans can purchase tickets online at gofan.com or at Tiger Town Embroidery.
Gates open at 5:30 p.m. Opelika will sell end-zone tickets Friday night at the Bulldog Stadium ticket office, starting at 5 pm.
Opelika High enforces a no-cross over policy at home games. Fans must seat where they enter. Visiting tickets are used on the visiting side only. The same policy applies for home tickets.
Children must have an adult present to enter the stadium. Bulldog Stadium requires fans to sit during the game. You must be going to a destination when not sitting.
D.Mark Mitchell is sports director for iHeart Media, Alabama Dixie Boys State director and vice president of the A-O Sports Council.