By D. Mark Mitchell

Sports Columnist


Photo by Robert Noles No. 17 Mathew Christian pushes through to run against Saraland in last week’s play-off round. The Dawgs fell in overtime, 21-27, ending the 2014 season.

Photo by Robert Noles
No. 17 Mathew Christian pushes through to run against Saraland in last week’s play-off round. The Dawgs fell in overtime, 21-27, ending the 2014 season.

The Saraland Spartans ended Opelika’s football season last Friday at Bulldog Stadium, 27-21 in overtime.
The Spartans put together one scoring drive during the game, 90 yards in two plays on their opening possession. The Bulldogs committed four turnovers during the game, two in the first quarter resulting in two Saraland TDs. These turnovers happened deep in Opelika territory resulting in short TD drives for the Spartans.
Opelika found themselves down 21-0 at halftime. Coach Blackmon knew his team could play much better in the second half. The coaching staff remained calm, talking to the players and “coaching them up” while taking a 20 minute break from the cold night at Bulldog Stadium.
Sure enough, the Bulldogs began to play the game without turnovers. The defense allowed only 143 yards after Saraland scored their 21st point.
The second half was dominated by three-year starting QB, Mathew Christian. Mathew threw two touchdown passes to James Moss, 17 and 19 yards, respectively, to pull within a touchdown at 21-14.
The Bulldog defense kept holding Saraland out of the end zone. With 3:18 left in the game and facing fourth and four from Opelika’s own 44-yard line with two time outs remaining, Coach Blackmon called a time out and decided to punt. The right decision. The Dawgs forced Saraland to punt after one first down.
Opelika took over at their own 36-yard line with 61 seconds left in the game. Christian completed a 46-yard pass to TJ Hamby, an eight-yard pass to Josh Johnson and a seven-yard pass to Moss, which put the Bulldogs at the Spartan six-yard line with only 22 seconds left in the game.
Offensive coordinator Bryan Moore inserted 330-pound Jared Gentry (starting defensive tackle) in at tight end. Gentry acted like he was blocking before running to the side of the end zone. He was all alone and caught the eight-yard pass from Christian for the TD. Jack Slay kicked the PAT to tie the game at 21-21 and force overtime.
Saraland scored first in OT with an eight-yard pass. The PAT was blocked, making it 27-21.Opelika needed a TD and PAT to win. Unfortunately the Spartans held the Bulldogs at the one yard line on fourth down to escape with a hard-fought 27-21 win.
The 9-2 finish was Coach Brian Blackmon second best record in his six-year tenure as head football coach. The Bulldogs won their first Region championship since 2007, defeating Auburn, Carver and Enterprise in addition to the Region wins. Central (10-2)and Saraland (10-2) were the only losses.
This is a great group of young men who  played hard every week. The senior class was part of the 2012 team that played for the state championship at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
The season saw a number of individual accomplishments. Mathew Christian finished his high school career by completing 26 of 31 passes for 310 yards and three TD passes. He is now the all-time passing leader in OHS history and holds the single season passing mark with over 1700 yards passing this season. Junior Josh Johnson rushed for over 1200 yards. Senior Drew Kiser started every game since his sophomore year.
I have enjoyed watching this year’s team play. The season may have ended earlier than some expected but we should remember the 9-2 record and the way this team represented Opelika, themselves and their families. Congratulations on a great season!
Winter sports are starting at OHS. The Bulldog grapplers started the season with a match in Prattville Tuesday night. Coach Jim Davis is in his second year as head man.
The Dawgs lost 51-27 to the Lions. Top Individuals winners were sophomore Davis Gafford (#132) , senior Adrian Pitts (#152), freshman Elijiah Harris (#160), sophomore Corbin Woodley and freshman Callahan Saggus (heavyweight).
The team will host PCA, Russell County and R.E. Lee in a tri-match in the sports arena starting at 5 p.m. today.
The Opelika boys basketball coach John Wadsworth knew his team would need to shoot well to win because the lack of size. The Bulldogs opened the season Tuesday night by stunning Jeff Davis 86-63 at the OHS Sports Arena. Joey Payne scored 27 points to lead the Dawgs. Teammate Kingston Frazier added 16, while Jucorey Love and Wesley Dowdell scored 10 points apiece.
Opelika travels to Central at 7 p.m. The next home game will be Monday versus Beauregard at the OHS Sports Arena: junior varsity at 4:30 p.m. and varsity girls and boys to follow.
Coach Devin Booth’s girls are 2-2. The Lady Bulldogs finished second in the St. James Invitational last weekend and lost to Jeff Davis 59-36 in Montgomery Tuesday. Booth returns one starter, Jaylen Snipes. The junior guard scored 20-plus points in all three games in the tourney and scored 15 against JD. Alexis Sydnor added 17 against JD. The girls travel to Central tonight and host Beauregard Monday at 6 p.m.
The OMS girls and boys defeated Gardner Newman, 25-22 and 31-28 respectively. Quala Walton scored nine while Sierra McCullough added seven points.
The boys were led by Isiah McKissick’s nine points and Tekael DeMunn added eight points.
Mitchell is sports director for Qantum Radio.