By D. Mark Mitchell

Opelika ended its spring practice by beating Niceville High School of Florida 34-14 at a jamboree game last Saturday in Troy. The Bulldogs rolled up 352 total offensive yards, with 135 coming on the ground and 217 through the air. The defense played tough, allowing two scores over four quarters.
Quarterback Cade Blackmon finished 10-of-14 for 127 yards. He threw a touchdown pass to Omar Holloway and ran for another score during the first half. Holloway caught six passes for 74 yards while teammate Marien Warner caught four passes for 50 yards.
Seven different players ran the ball Saturday. Branton Barnett rushed six times for 13 yards, Blackmon rushed twice for 34 yards. Four other running backs, Kani Kellum, Eric Watts, Jara Nelms and Nate Evans contributed on offense.
Second team quarterback Brody Davis was 8-of-14 for 90 yards.
The spring game was the last athletic event for the 2017-18 school year. Football players will have two and half weeks off before preparing for the 2018 season.
This Friday night at Bulldog Stadium, Opelika High School will hold its annual commencement ceremony honoring the 2018 graduating seniors. This is always a special time for the students, family and administration.
Opelika City Schools will continue the tradition of holding the event inside Bulldog Stadium. In case of rain, OCS Superintendent Dr. Mark Neighbors said he will do everything possible to hold the ceremony Friday night. OHS Principal Dr. Farrell Seymore will announce each graduating senior as they walk across the stage to receive their diploma from Dr. Neighbors and OCS Board Chairwoman, Patsy Parker. The event will begin at 7 p.m.
Congratulations Class of 2018!
The 2017-18 athletic year started with football and Opelika’s new coach Caleb Ross. The Bulldogs finished 9-4, tied for the region championship and advancing to the quarterfinals, losing to Hillcrest 26-24. The season was riddled with injuries, including two quarterbacks and two deep-snappers. A total of 11 players missed games because of injuries or illness.
Volleyball finished with an 11-8 overall record.
The girls and boys cross country teams did not win any meets, but competed with a team full of freshmen, sophomores and juniors.
Conner Pruitt won his fifth-state diving championship at the AHSAA State Swim Meet in Auburn.
The winter months were spent inside the gyms with the wrestling and basketball teams.
Coach Devin Booth’s girls basketball team was the highlight of the entire sports year. The Lady Bulldogs, who finished 23-10 overall, advanced to the Final Four for the first time in school history. The girls won the area regular season and tournament titles for the fourth-consecutive year.
Booth was honored for her team’s success by being named the “East Alabama Girls Basketball Coach of the Year.”
The Opelika boys basketball team finished with a flurry, capturing the area tournament championship. The Bulldogs defeated Pelham in double overtime in the subregional game to advance to the Sweet 16. Coach John Wadsworth’s team ended the season with a loss to Homewood.
The Opelika wrestling team enjoyed a successful season. The team won more matches than the previous season and had four wrestlers qualified for the state meet.
Heavyweight James Dawson (195 lbs.), Cameron Reese (170 lbs.), Benjamin Daughtry (145 lbs.) and Desmond Shuman all earned trips to compete in the AHSAA State wrestling tournament. Dawson finished fourth in his second-straight trip to the state matches.
As the winter sports season ended, Ross announced he would be the new football coach at Prattville, his alma mater and home for he and his wife Amy.
One day later, Erik Speakman was named new football coach by Dr. Mark Neighbors. Speakman was serving as the athletic director and defensive coordinator for the football team prior to being named coach.
He is still serving as athletic director, but a new one should be named soon, according to Neighbors. He said he may not fill the part time position until after the school year ends.
Spring is the busiest time of the athletic year. The Opelika baseball team finished the season with a 22-14 overall record, winning the area championship under second-year coach Nick Richardson.
The Bulldogs advanced to the second round after knocking off Northridge in the first round of the playoffs. Helena swept the double-header at Bulldog Park to end the season. The future is bright for that program.
Softball struggled through a tough season because of a young pitching staff. Coach Tina Deese continues to work with the Opelika Middle School players to build a foundation.
The girls and boys tennis teams went through some ups and downs this year. The two teams did not qualify for the state matches but should keep improving.
The girls and boys soccer team’s continue to improve. The girls won their fourth-straight area title, earning a home match in the first round of the playoffs.
After a dominating 7-0 win against Hillcrest, Opelika advanced to the second round and lost 6-0 to Chelsea.
Coach Derek Hovell guided the boys soccer team to another successful season. The boys finished second in the area, and traveled to Northside for the first round, where they lost 2-1.
Opelika’s girls and boys track teams returned to the state meet. Coach Jimmy Johnson guided the girls to an 11th-place finish while the boys placed fourth. The highlight of their season was Jayson Davis winning the school’s first-ever pole vault championship.
The 2018-19 school year will start in August. I encourage all Opelika supporters to keep supporting the OHS athletic department, because of how important it is to the state of our city.
D. Mark Mitchell is sports director for iHeart Media, Alabama Dixie Boys state director and vice president of the A-O Sports Council. He can be followed on Twitter at VOICEOFTHEDAWGS