On the Mark
By D. Mark Mitchell
OPELIKA CROSS COUNTRY
Opelika senior Ben Bryant captured the individual 6A state championship with a time of 15:34.76, the best overall time in all seven state high school classes. Bryant’s first place finish helped the Dawgs finish in second place, one point from winning the state team championship. Homewood won the 6A state title with 40 points, one point lower than Opelika’s 41 points.
Ben signed a cross country scholarship with Samford University earlier this week. We’ll tell you more about this next week.
Other members of the boys team and their order of finish included Kane Barrett (senior), who finished sixth with a time of 16:24.22; Kevin Lazenby (junior), eighth, running a personal best time of 16:24.71; Ben Garner (sophomore), 13th with a time of 16:50.83; Hayden Washburn (junior) who finished 17th, running 16:56.36; Jonathan Bizilia, 26th; Braden Holloway, 63rd; Elijah Smith, 95th; and David Brezt, 116th out of 200 runners.
Ben Bryant and the entire team will be recognized by Mayor Gary Fuller and members of the Opelika City Council during next Tuesday night’s council meeting.
The OHS girls cross country team finished 16th in class 6A after winning the sectional meet. Shamika Smith finished 88th, Veronica Tyk Evans was 92nd, Cameron Walker placed 118th, Ambriah Bryant was 133rd, Emma Royal placed 149th and Alysha Bland finished 158th out of 200 runners.
OHS first year coaches Kristen Blatt and Tony Benetez have been great additions to the Opelika cross country and track program. This year’s teams finished higher than any other cross country teams at OHS. Congratulations, cross country teams!
The Opelika Bulldog football team (9-1) started the quest for a state title with a 33-7 win over Wetumpka last Friday in the first round of the AHSAA playoffs.
The Dawgs used a workman-like approach to defeat the Indians at Bulldog Stadium. Kyle Fourtanbary caught a 31-yard TD pass from Mathew Christian with 2:02 left in the opening quarter to take a 7-0 lead. Wetumpka answered with a 67-yard touchdown pass from Keldon Washington to Khaliq Jones with 1:12 left in the quarter. That would be the only score for the visiting Indians.
OHS scored 27 straight points while holding Wetumpka to a 153 total yards with 65 yards coming on one run.
James Moss caught a 4-yard pass from Christian for a score, Josh Johnson scored on runs of three and two yards, and Gage Young caught a 13-yard pass from Christian for a TD. Hunter Weygand kicked two extra points while Jack Slay kicked one. Two PATs were missed by Opelika.
Opelika advances to the second round of the AHSAA playoffs against Saraland tonight at 7 p.m. at Bulldog Stadium.
NO. 2 SARALAND versus NO. 3 OPELIKA
Third-ranked Opelika (9-1) will have home field advantage tonight in round two of the AHSAA state playoffs against the second-ranked (10-1) Saraland Spartans. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. at Bulldog Stadium.
Head football coach and athletic director Brian Blackmon is hoping for a packed house to help his team against the Spartans. Speaking on my weekday radio show, “On The Mark,” earlier this week, Coach Blackmon talked about the importance of a huge crowd. “Our kids love playing at Bulldog Stadium because of our fans. They get fired up when the people in the stands cheer for them. We have a pretty good football team and are not having to drive four hours to play a game (referring to Saraland’s four-hour bus ride to Opelika),” said Blackmon.
The Spartans bring a talented 10-1 team to Bulldog Stadium. Saraland opened as a new high school in 2010 to help Satsuma and surrounding schools from getting too large. Former Southern Mississippi QB Jeff Kelley is the head coach.
It’s obvious this will be a close game. Saraland has scored 431 points in its 11 games while OHS has scored 421 points in 10 games. They have allowed 132 points on defense while we have given up 131 points. See?
The Spartans defeated Jackson 28-0, Daphne 35-28, Robertsdale 40-16, Gulf Shores 38-6, Thomasville 49-14, Citronelle 40-0, Baldwin County 40-0, LeFlore 41-14, Hilcrest, Evergreen 47-7, Blount 50-9 and Bessemer City 37-10 in the first round of playoffs. Their only loss was to Spanish Fort 28-13.
This will be a match-up with the Spartans high scoring offense going against the tough OHS defense. The Bulldog offense is explosive as well.
KEYS TO VICTORY
Opelika needs to take advantage of playing at Bulldog Stadium – we really need a packed house. We need to make no mistakes. The team that has the most turnovers will probably lose. Make Saraland drive a long way to score, no easy points. The kicking game must be error-free. Winston Smith T will need his best night of punting, if the team has to call on him. Chaz Blackmon and Jack Slay need to be sound kicking off (and I hope we are kicking off a lot), and Hunter Weygand needs to be perfect on all PATs and do his best if he gets a shot at a field goal.
The Dawgs must stop their running game and put the Spartans in predictable downs. The Bulldog offense needs to continue to mix the pass and the run.
Josh Johnson has rushed for over 1,000 yards. QB Mathew Christian will pass Brandon Dowdell’s school record 1,675 passing yards tonight. These two players, along with the other skilled guys, need to have good games.
This will be the toughest opponent Opelika has played; they are very similar to Central.
I believe we will win the game tonight. Did you really think I would think differently?
LISTEN TO OPELIKA versus SARALAND
Fans can listen to tonight’s Opelika/Saraland game on WKKR 97.7 FM or online at www.kickerfm.com. You can also watch tonight’s game on the web by going to thedawgnetwork.com or Opelika schools.org . Look for the NFHS blue and red icon, click and you will be directed to the home page where you will be asked to pay a fee to watch the game.
Mitchell is vice president of the A-O Sports Council.