BY WIL CREWS
The varsity Opelika High School football team moved to 3-0 on the season, beating region opponent Lee, 31-7, Friday night at Cramton Bowl in Montgomery.
The Bulldogs dominated the game despite a slow start that saw them enter halftime with a narrow, 10-0 lead. Opelika sophomore running back Calvin Hughley opened the scoring with a 9-yard rush, and kicker Johnny Cescena converted a 20-yard field goal to give the Bulldogs the advantage at the break.
“Offensively tonight, we missed a few throws and the running backs missed a few run lanes on the first three drives,” Speakman said.
Following halftime, the ‘Dawgs scored two third quarter touchdowns. A 5-yard TD from senior Tae Gay, and a 2-yard rushing TD from senior Ja’Kori Thornton pushed Opelika’s lead to 24-0. The Bulldogs wrapped up their scoring with a 29-yard TD connection from junior quarterback Roman Gagliano to senior receiver Tirus Patton, extending the lead to 31-0 after a successful point-after-attempt (PAT).
“We have got some guys who can really run,” Speakman said. “With their speed, we are trying to run a little more outside zone than we have in the past and try to get those guys on the edge. We have got some good kids who can really help us in the backfield, but we just got to figure out the mix as we go through these next couple games.”
In total, Opelika amassed 376 total yards compared to Lee’s 108. Opelika’s defense controlled the game, allowing just 67 rushing yards and preventing Lee from reaching the end zone until the game was wrapped up in the fourth quarter.
“I’ve said it before and I’ve said it forever … so many teams give us something new right off the bat so our kids and coaches have to adjust,” Speakman said. “Usually they will have a little success with it, but once we settle in, we don’t give up many points in the second half.”
Gagliano finished 12-of-20 for 161 yards and one two touchdowns; senior Caden Cooper caught three passes for 61 yards; and senior Jhavian Williams rushed 11 times for 100 yards.
“I thought Roman did a great job,” Speakman said. “He did a decent job in the first half, but [in the second half] did a good job of taking exactly what the defense was giving him.”
Defensively, senior defensive end Jake Smith led the Bulldogs with seven tackles; Gay and senior safety Andre Smiley added five tackles apiece.
Opelika now prepares for its Friday matchup against powerhouse Central Phenix City (3-0, R 2-0). The Bulldogs lost to the Red Devils, 38-7, last season and have not beaten Central since 2015 (having played every year). Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. CST at Bulldog Stadium.
“We talked about it when we got into this region in December,” Speakman said. “It really gets tough with Central. As coach Dye used to refer to “Amen Corner”, when [Auburn] would play Alabama, Georgia and Florida in a row, that’s kind of what [the next piece of the schedule] is going to be for us. We will look forward to watching the film on this one and enjoying the win, but we need all the help we can get from all the Bulldog fans in Opelika, so hopefully there won’t be a seat available on our side.”