By D. Mark Mitchell

sports columnist

The Opelika football team (7-0) traveled to Chelsea (5-2) for the first time last Friday night and defeated the Hornets 40-25. The Hornets moved in the new Region with OHS last year after the AHSAA expanded to seven classifications.
Chelsea entered the game 5-0-1, looking to upset the Bulldogs and capture state wide attention. Head Coach Chris Elmore sent a email to over 500 Hornet boosters explaining the importance of beating Opelika, or in his words, “the BEST Team in 6A and probably Alabama”. The six paragraph email explained how the team has been working out since January to help beat the Dawgs, and that the home crowd needed to stand and make noise in a effort to distract Opelika. The coach explained how the noise at Bulldog stadium caused his team problems last year.
The email is a testament and tribute to the Opelika athletic program and football team. Coach Elmore wants his football program to model Opelika. He knew a win over the Bulldogs would be a big part of the process.
Chelsea opened the game with a lot of emotion and excitement. The stands were packed and the team was pumped up as the Hornet marching band was playing nonstop when the game started.
The Dawgs started the game a little flat, due to the emotional win over rival Central a week prior. OHS trailed 17-13 at halftime. Coach Blackmon was not pleased with the way his team played the first half., “We are not playing with the intensity that is expected. I know we can and will play better in the second half. They (Chelsea) are undefeated for a reason,” said Blackmon during his halftime interview on 97.7 Kicker FM.
Opelika responded with a dominating second half, holding the Hornets to seven points while scoring 27. Jake Bentley threw for 184 yards while  Josh Johnson ran for 171 yards and scored four TDs. The defense played well. Charlie Benton intercepted two more passes. Several players were banged up but no one was injured during the game.
The Bulldogs improved to 7-0 and 4-0 in the Region and secured a playoff spot. Opelika can win the Region championship with a win over Valley tonight at Bulldog Stadium.(This would be the second Region Championship in a row.)
This will be the 48th meeting between VHS and OHS. The Rams lead the series 24-22-1. Most of Valley’s wins were before the 1980s; since then the Dawgs have won 80{44c616e11cf70d617c8dd92fb0bc15f41001df771f775c6b004238009c89a3f0} of the games.
Coach Brian Blackmon is 3-0 as a head coach against VHS.
The Rams enter Bulldog Stadium 3-3, beating Lanett 35-6, Oxford 20-13 and Chilton County 25-21, while losing to Greenville 34-13, Chelsea 48-3 and Smiths Station 36-0.
Valley’s offense averages 80 passing yards per game and 154 yards rushing. The low offensive numbers mean the defense must keep the opponents from scoring points.
I have a tremendous amount of respect for the Valley football program. They normally play physical hard-nosed football. Valley has gone away from this mentality over the last several years.
On paper, Opelika should win tonight’s game by a wide margin. The Dawgs have more talent and are playing at home for the Region championship.
Opelika will play well tonight in all three phases and dominate Valley.
Fans can listen to the Valley/Opelika game on 97.7 Kicker FM and online at Coach Brian Blackmon’s pregame show starts at 6:30 with kickoff set for 7p.m.
The broadcast team of D.Mark Mitchell, Jeff Sasser, (former Opelika coach) Larry Gore and Wade Meadows (reporting from sideline) will bring all the action to you.
Fans can watch a webcast of the Valley vs Opelika game tonight by going to, set up account and search for the Opelika Broadcast. You must pay a small fee, a portion of which goes to OHS athletics.
The Opelika Middle School 8th grade fell to Central 32-6. Despite  the score the OMS defense  played a good game. Malik Covington added another pick to his season statistics.
The lone TD was scored on a great first drive by the offense. Kani Kellum found the end zone.
The OMS 7th Grade defeated Phenix City Intermediate School (Central) 18-0.
The OMS offense was led by great line blocking that resulted in three rushing TDs.
The defense pitched a shutout because of a total team effort at every position. It was a total team win in all three phases of the game.
The OHS cross country team participated in the Jesse Owens Invite in Moulton last weekend. This is the largest cross country meet in the South and is held at the same park as the AHSAA State Championship.
Ben Garner finished 20th out of 400 runners to lead Opelika. Hayden Washburn was the next Bulldog, finishing at 44th. Jonathan Bizilia (57th),  Kevin Lazenby (72nd) and Braden Holloway(107th) also finished well for OHS.
The Dawgs are one of the top three teams in 6A.
D.Mark Mitchell is sports director for iHeart Media, Alabama Dixie Boys State director and vice president of the  A-O Sports Council.