By D. Mark Mitchell

Central (5-0), the top-ranked team in class 7A, wore down Opelika (3-3, 1-1 in region) in the second half to pull away with a 46-19 win Friday night. Opelika trailed 16-6 after two quarters, continuing to play without key starters because of injuries. Among the injured, were starting quarterback Cade Blackmon and backup Brody Davis. Freshman Malik Finley got the start at quarterback.
The Bulldogs could not keep up with the talented Red Devils in the second half. Central scored 30 points to seal the victory for head coach Jamey Dubose.
Opelika playoff hopes depend on the next four region games. Despite having a 3-3 record, the Bulldogs are 1-1 in the region and could finish second by winning out the rest of the way.
Opelika hosts the Helena Huskies (1-4, 0-1 in region) Friday night at Bulldog Stadium for homecoming, with kickoff set for 7 p.m. The Huskies and Bulldogs have only played each other once, a 36-7 Bulldog win last year. Helena enters the game with a three-game losing streak and four total losses: 41-0 to Mountain Brook, 29-25 to Pelham, 37-7 to Homewood and 14-0 to Vestavia Hills. The lone win was a 20-0 shutout win over Chilton County. The Huskies have been outscored 121-52 on the season.
The Opelika football team needs something positive to happen after starting 3-3. Helena may be “just what the doctor ordered”. No disrespect to Helena, but Opelika has the better team and program. The Dawgs are slowly becoming healthy. Blackmon should be available in the coming weeks along with a host of teammates. However, senior offensive tackle Blake Landers is out for the season after suffering a injury against Chilton County.
Look for Coach Ross to have the Dawgs ready Friday night. The first-year head coach is trying to keep the players positive and prepared for the final four games of the regular season. I predict Opelika will start fast Friday, scoring early and often while our defense shuts down the Huskies offensively.
Four members of the Opelika swim team qualified for the AHSAA sectionals and state meets. Brandi Jones qualified for the state meet in the 100-meter breaststroke and qualified for sectionals in the 100-meter backstroke and in the 50-meter freestyle. Julia Bush qualified for sectionals in the 100-meter freestyle and 100-meter butterfly. Martha Pugh and Railey Jones qualified for sectionals in the 50-meter freestyle.
Opelika Volleyball Coach Robin Roberts has guided the lady bulldogs to a 5-7 record in her second year at the helm. The Lady Dawgs defeated Central-Clay 2-0 after losing three straight matches to Smiths Station, Wetumpka and Benjamin Russell.
The Lady Bulldogs hosted Wetumpka Tuesday night, but results were not available at press time. Opelika hosts Auburn Thursday, with first tip set for 4:30 p.m.
The junior varsity team is 4-7 overall after beating Central Clay 2-0.
The OMS seventh and eighth-grade football teams remained undefeated after wins over Smiths Station last Thursday.
The seventh-grade team beat Smiths Station 38-0 behind quarterback Kaleb Chisum’s three touchdowns. Kaden Cooper caught two touchdown passes and rushed for a third and Tre Almacen scored on a 6-yard run.
The eighth-grade team defeated Smiths Station 21-0 behind two scores from running back Jarell Stinson. Quarterback Jackson Bates threw two touchdown passes, one to Stinson and one to Tre Roberts. Charles Gagliano made all three extra-point attempts. The defense was led by, Nick Zachary, Dre Baker, Jackson Mcleod, Tylik Hambrick and Montae Hutchinson.
Both teams will play Central Thursday night at Bulldog Stadium. The seventh-grade game starts at 4:30 p.m., and the eighth-grade game will begin 30 minutes after the completion of the opener.
D.Mark Mitchell is sports director for iHeart Media, Alabama Dixie Boys State director and vice president of the A-O Sports Council.