By D. Mark Mitchell
As you know, Opelika lost to Ramsay 21-16 in the 6A football championship game Dec. 2 at the Super 7 Championship at Jordan-Hare Stadium. The Dawgs were 13-1 entering their championship game with the support of the entire city of Opelika. Most Bulldog fans, including me, thought it was Opelika’s year to bring home the ‘Blue Map” (the color of the state of Alabama map on the championship plaque.
The team standing in the way of the trophy was a high school from Birmingham that had dropped their football program from 1973 until 2012, Ramsay High School.
Coach Reuben Nelson left Midfield to accept the head coaching job at Ramsay High School in 2012. Four years later, the Rams won the 6A North with a 12-2 record, advancing to the 6A championship game against Opelika. The two losses were to Grayson High, a Georgia powerhouse that defeated 7A champion Hoover, and Alabama 7A Mountain Brook.
The Opelika/Ramsay game was the best of the seven championships because of the close score. Opelika hurt themselves with two turnovers. In addition, QB John-David Worth separated his shoulder early in the first quarter and running back Weldrin Ford played with a broken thumb and two cracked ribs. Despite all of the issues, Opelika had a chance to win the game.
Perhaps the biggest mistake in the game was by the game officials.
Late in the football game Ramsay faced fourth-and-27 from their 14-yard line. Benito Harley, quarterback for Ramsay, is the punter. Harley faked the punt and completed a pass for 29 yards and a first down. The play was illegal because the pass receiver was not eligible to catch a pass (ineligible receiver). The player who caught the pass was lined up at tackle and was covered up on the line by a tight end, making him a lineman and an ineligible receiver.
Two flags should have been thrown on the play. One for ” illegal man down field” and the second for “illegal touching.” Coach Blackmon would have declined the” Illegal man down field” penalty and taken the “Illegal touching” penalty. This penalty is five yards and loss of down.
If the play had been properly called, Opelika would have taken over at the Ramsay nine-yard line, first-and-goal. Instead Ramsay kept their drive alive.
After the game , Opelika Coach Brian Blackmon was asked about the missed call during his postgame interview. He replied, “It was one of those plays that happened during the course of the game. There were a bunch of plays that affected the outcome of the game. But this one certainly wasn’t a situation where we looked at it and said that cost us the game.”
Coach Blackmon could have easily replied differently, blasting the eight men who were officiating the game. AHSAA Executive Director Steve Savarese admitted the game officials missed the call. “The missed penalties were a mistake that could have changed the outcome of the game. We will never know what would have followed. This hurts all of us involved with the AHSAA,” he said.
Savarese applauded Coach Brian Blackmon’s reaction and statements after the game. “Coach Blackmon’s comments demonstrated educational athletics, professionalism and most importantly, class.” said Savarese.
Brian Blackmon should be commended and thanked by all Opelika Bulldog fans for being a leader of young men and representing Opelika with class. Opelika cannot win every game in any sport.
“The most important lesson to learn from sports: win and lose the same, with class,” said Hall of Fame and former Opelika head coach, Spence MacCracken.
Coach Blackmon displayed his class during and after the game.
At the end of the day, class wins! Go Dawgs!
Happy New Year to all of you!
D.Mark Mitchell is sports director for iHeart Media, Alabama Dixie Boys State director and vice president of the A-O Sports Council.