By D. Mark Mitchell

The Opelika High School volleyball team (9-5) won the area championship for the first time in more than 20 years. The Lady Bulldogs earned the title with two wins over Russell County and splitting two games against Benjamin Russell, finishing 3-1 in the area.
Opelika will host Park Crossing this Thursday at 4:30 p.m. in the Main Street Gym. Opelika ends the regular season with road matches at Smiths Station (10-17) and Auburn (10-18).
The Opelika football team (2-4 overall, 2-1 in region play) dominated Benjamin Russell in Alexander City last Friday night 29-3. Opelika’s defense dominated the Wildcats, allowing one field goal while recording 10 tackles for negative yards and sacking the quarterback four times. Opelika’s offense kept the scoreboard operator busy in the first half, scoring 29 points and ending any thoughts of a Benjamin Russell win.
Brantan Barnett sprinted 39 yards for a touchdown on the first play from scrimmage. An ensuing successful two-point conversion gave Opelika an 8-0 lead early in the game. After holding the Wildcats to a three-and-out, Cade Blackmon threw a 34-yard TD pass to Jaylen Stinson on the Bulldogs’ second possession to extend their lead.
Neither team was able to score points in the second half. Opelika worked the clock and played close to the vest to hold its 26-point lead. The Wildcats struggled to get first downs against the overpowering Bulldogs.
Opelika’s win combined with Stanhope Elmore beating Wetumpka shakes up the region standings. Stanhope Elmore leads at 3-0, Wetumpka and Opelika are 2-1, Calera and Benjamin Russell is 1-3.
The Bulldogs travel to Calera for the first-ever meeting between the two schools. Calera (1-5 overall, 1-3 in region play) defeated Selma 23-6 last Friday for their first win of the season.
Calera is coached by former Alabama quarterback Andrew Zow, who is 14-13 in his third season. Look for the Bulldogs to dominate the Eagles for their second win in a row. If things go according to plan, many players will see playing time Friday night.
Calera has been outscored 181-118 through six games. Pelham, Pell City, Stanhope Elmore, Wetumpka and Bibb County have defeated the Eagles.
Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. at Cairns Memorial Stadium in Calera. Fans can listen to the game on WKKR 97.7 Kicker FM or online at
D. Mark Mitchell is sports director for iHeart Media, Alabama Dixie Boys State Director and vice president of the A-O Sports Council.
See B2 for game photos taken by Observer photojournalist Robert Noles.