by D. Mark Mitchell

Opelika High girls and boys cross country teams participated in the AHSAA State Cross Country Meet at Jesse Owens Park in Moulton last weekend.
The OHS girls team finished 16th while the boys finished fifth.
Ben Garner finished second with a time of 16:13.60 to lead the Dawgs. Garner entered the meet with a number one ranking. The senior ran a personal best at the Jessie Owens Invite last month on the same course. In the course of winning Garner somehow injured his hip, causing him to miss the next two regular season meets. The nagging injury cost could have been the difference between first and second in the state meet.
Of the remaining team members, Braden Holloway finished 15th, Marcus Chandler 19th, Michael Geoffrey Crisler 47th and Givon Clarke 11th, Tykell Jones and Jacob Walker finished 111th and 114th respectively.
The Opelika girls were led by Savanah Karl’s 32nd place finish. Nikerea Durr was 86th, Shakerra Forbes finished 132th, Jhenny Hoover finished 133rd and Madison Rush finished 170th.
Congratulations to Coach Kristen Blatt and the members of the OHS cross country teams.
The Opelika Bulldogs (11-1) defeated Daphne (9-3) 35-6 last Friday night at Jubilee Stadium in Daphne. The Dawgs started fast, taking the opening drive 80 yards for a touchdown. Weldrin Ford capped off the 11- play drive, sprinting 5 yards for the score. Ford scored his second TD on a 59-yard run to make it 14-0.
Opelika scored 21 more points while holding Daphne to a season’s low 26 rushing yards . The Trojans scored their only TD late in the game.
Austen Blackmon kicked four PATs while Tyler Sellers added one.
Opelika advances to the quarterfinals and will travel to Spanish Fort Friday, five miles from where the Bulldogs played Daphne.
Opelika will play Spanish Fort (10-2) Friday night at 7 p.m. at Toro Stadium in Spanish Fort. The two teams met a year ago in the same round and venue with the Toros winning 21-13. Spanish Fort went on to win the 6A championship at the Super 7 in Tuscaloosa two games later.
Spanish Fort is coached by Ben Blackmon, the younger brother of Opelika’s Brian. The Toros lost their opener, 24-3 at McGill-Toolen, before winning four in a row. SFHS beat Daphne 26-7, Gulf Shores 38-10, Robertsdale 43-0 and Baldwin Co 20-0. After an open week Spanish Fort lost to Blount, 25-0. The Toros then reeled off seven straight wins, beating Foley 26-6, Saraland 33-7, BC Rain 31-20 and Leflore 25-6 in the regular season, and Carver 23-22 and Hillcrest 23-13 in the first two play-off rounds.
Opelika must travel the four hours to Spanish Fort despite winning their region championship and traveling four hours to Daphne last week. SFHS travelled to Tuscaloosa last week. The AHSAA sets the brackets before the season starts and have rules to determine home and away.
Opelika needs to keep playing strong defense and controlling both  lines of scrimmage. Offensively, quarterback John David Worth has been near-perfect this season. The senior has completed 124 passes, including 20 touchdowns, on 186 attempts. Weldrin Ford has rushed for almost 1,500 yards and receiver Jaleel Heard continues to shine, with 1,400 receiving yards.
The OHS defense continues to dominate opponents, allowing 18 points in two playoff games, all of which were scored in the fourth quarters after the game was out of reach.
Spanish Fort graduated several starters from last year’s team, but the replacements have a full season under their belts. Playing at home will be a plus for the Toros. Special teams and field position will be a factor. Neither team can turn the ball over and win.
This will be a good old-fashioned football game between two great teams. I like Opelika to return to Spanish Fort and get revenge by winning and advancing to the semifinals.
Fans can listen to the Opelika vs. Spanish Fort football game on WKKR 97.7 KICKER FM. You can listen online at or download the i-Heart radio app on your smart phone. Search WKKR and hit play.
Former OHS Coach Larry Gore and Jeff Sasser will provide commentary while I, D.Mark Mitchell, handle the play-by-play duties.
Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. The pre-game starts at 6:30 with the “Brian Blackmon Pre-Game Show.”
OMS 7-8th
The OMS eighth grade basketball team defeated Smiths Station 45-30 last week. The Dawgs were led by Trevon Moore’s 31 points and double digit rebounds. Jawaan  Fields added five points with double digit rebounds while guards Malik Finley and Brandon Howard added eight points apiece on the night. OMS will travel to Long Cane Thursday.
The seventh grade team beat Smiths Station 41-27. The OMS offense was lead by Jarell Stinson’s 14 points. Farrtavious Hardnett scored eight points and Taylor Love added seven. Taylor Love and Tylik Hambrick grabbed ten rebounds apiece. Both teams are 2-0 for the young season.
D.Mark Mitchell is sports director for iHeart Media, Alabama Dixie Boys State director and vice president of the  A-O Sports Council.