Dawgs defeat Park Crossing, advance to state championship
by D. Mark Mitchell
Opelika beat Park Crossing 41-23 in the Alabama high school playoff semifinals in front of a standing-room-only crowd at Bulldog Stadium last Friday night. The win locked up a trip to the 6A championship game and the first 13-win season in OHS school history.
The Thunderbirds took a 3-0 lead after Jake Lane kicked a 36-yard field goal with 9:12 left in the opening quarter. PCHS would hold the lead for 36 seconds. Weldrin Ford scored his first of four touchdowns on a 22-yard run. Austen Blackmon kicked a 42- yard field goal with 2:22 left in the first quarter. PCHS’s Malik Cunningham scored on a two yard run to tie the game at 10-10. Ford scored two touchdowns on runs of three and two yards in the second quarter and Opelika led 24-10 at halftime.
In the third quarter, Heard caught an 18-yard TD pass from Worth and Austen Blackmon nailed a 29-yard field goal. The Thunderbirds scored two TDs in less than a minute in the fourth quarter when Cunningham threw touchdown passes for 23 and 70 yards. Opelika’s running back Weldrin Ford, having a career night, scored his final TD on a 23-yard run. Bulldog quarterback John David Worth threw for 131 yards and rushed for 101 yards, Weldrin Ford rushed 28 times for a season high 220 yards and Jaleel Heard caught 10 passes for 108 yards. Austen Blackmon made two field goals, from 42 yards (season best) and 29 yards; Austen also kicked four extra points.
Defensive Coordinator Erik Speakman used a fabulous game plan to hold Park Crossing to 23 points which was 22 points less than their season’s average. Zachary Yancey led Opelika with 14 tackles. Will Boler, Brandon Gaffney and Greg Jackson recorded 10 tackles apiece. The defense sacked PCHS quarterback Malik Cunningham six times, a season high for the Louisville-commit star.
OHS won its second semifinal game in the school’s 99-year football history, and the first inside the friendly confines of Bulldog Stadium.
Opelika will play the Ramsey Rams from Birmingham in the 6A SUPER 7 Championship in Jordan-Hare Stadium Dec. 2 at 7 p.m. This is the second time Coach Brian Blackmon has led Opelika to the state championship game. The first-ever trip was in 2012, a 31-0 loss to Hoover.
AHSAA CLASS 6A STATE CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
The Opelika Bulldogs will play the Ramsey Rams for the 6A state championship Friday at Jordan-Hare Stadium in the AHSAA SUPER 7. This is the first meeting between the two schools.
Ramsey, 12-2, played football from 1930 until 1975 when the Birmingham City School System decided to close the school. Ramsay was reopened in 2012. The Rams, whose colors are white and royal blue, are coached by Rueben Nelson. Nelson, who coached at Midfield (located just south of Birmingham) previously, is 32-25 overall and 5-2 in the playoffs.
Ramsey has scored 494 points while allowing 234 points. Ramsay beat Pinson Valley 31-15, Shades Valley 42-6, Hueytown 48-16, Parker 41-7, Jackson-Olin 45-27, Homewood 40-14 and Smiths Station 23-0 in the regular season. The Rams lost to Grayson, Ga., 38-6 and (7A) Mountain Brook 19-13.
Their four playoff wins were Clay-Chalkville 38-28, Decatur 34-6, Minor 40-20 and Austin 25-14.
This is Ramsey’s first trip to the state championship game in school history. The Rams are led by QB Baniko Harley who has 108 completions in 148 pass attempts for 1,600 passing yards and 53 rushes for 462 yards. The 6’1” senior has scored 20 touchdowns, 16 in the air and four on the ground. Harley has completed an impressive 73 percent of his passes.
Running back Jamarcus Ellison, 5’9” 184 lbs,, leads the Rams on the ground with 726 yards on 126 carries and 10 TD’s. Joshua Horn is the leading receiver with 670 yards on 29 catches and 11 touchdowns.
THE VIEW FROM “VOICE OF THE
Opelika High School started playing football in 1917 and has never won a state championship, an amazing fact. OHS has seen its share of talented players and Hall of Fame coaches but no state championship in any sport. Does this mean Opelika is not a champion? By no means. It means no Opelika team has endured the regular season and won five straight playoff games. In many years the team that beat Opelika in the playoffs advanced to win the state championship.
This year, I sincerely and firmly believe, will be different! Opelika will win its first state football championship Friday night at Jordan-Hare Stadium. It is time to end the 99 year drought and bring home the Blue Map, the plaque in the shape of the state of Alabama, blue in color, awarded to the state champion. Opelika won the Red Map in 2012, the trophy awarded to the runner-up.
I am not saying Ramsay is not a good team! They are 12-2 and earned a trip to the championship game just like we did. What I am saying is that Opelika is playing as one, a true team, more than I have seen in my tenure as Voice of the Bulldogs. The kids seem to enjoy being around each other and are determined to bring home the championship.
Here is an example: Last Friday afternoon, I arrived at Bulldog Stadium early to help with the game day setup and assist Raycom TV. Meanwhile on the field, the OHS players happened to be in the middle of their 15 minute “free time” after the pregame meal. Weldrin Ford and Jaleel Heard walked over to me. After exchanging greetings, I asked the two young men, “Do you guys know how many Opelika people are happy and proud of the Bulldogs?” Both players replied, “Yes sir, but we are not finished. Two more wins. Then we all can be happy.”
Their reply may not mean as much to some, but, to me, it was something I have witnessed for 14 weeks this fall. The players used the pronoun “we”, instead of “I.”
I could share many similar stories about this Opelika team. This is why I am convinced the 2016 Opelika High football team will finish with a state championship.
Tickets to the Opelika/Ramsay 6A championship game can be purchased at Bubba’s Medicine Shop or online at www.preptix.com/ahsaa. Tickets will be available at Jordan-Hare Stadium Friday. It is cheaper to purchase in advance.
POLICY- The AU Clear Bag Policy will be enforced during all Super 7 games. The same policy used during Auburn University home games will be enforced.
WEBSITE- www.Super7al.com, The website is full of helpful information, including the Clear Bag Policy.
PARKING- Fans are asked to park in the Hayfield parking lot. This lot is perfect for tailgating. The AU Transit System will take fans to and from the stadium.
HANDICAPPED PARKING- available in the Arena parking lot.
Opelika is the home team and will wear red. DAWG WALK is at 5:15 p.m.at Gate 10. Fans are asked to line the sidewalk in the direction of the east side. The Super 7 will have officials guiding the Dawg Walk.
Opelika fans can purchase tickets and enter the stadium at Gate 14 on the west side (press box side).
Fans can listen to the 6A championship game between Opelika and Ramsay on WKKR 97.7 KICKER FM. Pre-game show starts at 5:30 with kickoff set for 7 p.m. The Opelika radio crew, former Opelika coach Larry Gore and former OHS QB Jeff Sasser will provide commentary, Mallory Mitchell will report from the sideline and I, D.Mark Mitchell, will handle the play-by–play duties.
SUPER 7 SCHEDULE
The Auburn-Opelika Sports Council and Auburn–Opelika Tourism Bureau partner with the AHSAA and Knight-Eady Sports Group to bring you the Super 7 football championships this week.
The event starts Wednesday with the Unified Football Championship game at 3:30 p.m. This is the annual Special Olympics event.
All seven championship games will air on i- Heart radio stations: WTLM 1520 AM, WZMG 910 AM and WKKR 97.7 FM.
The game schedule and the station airing the championship game are:
3:30 p.m. Unified Football Championship
7 p.m. 7A Championship McGill-Toolen vs Hoover (WKKR 97.7 FM)
11 a.m. 3A Championship Piedmont vs Mobile Christian WTLM 1520 AM
3 p.m. 1A Championship Pickens County vs Maplesville WZMG 910 AM
7 p.m. 5A Championship Wenona vs Beauregard WKKR 97.7 KICKER FM
11 a.m. 4A Championship Handley vs Madison Academy WTLM 1520 AM
3 p.m. 2A Championship Fyffe vs Aliceville WZMG 910 AM
7 p.m. 6A Championship Ramsay vs Opelika WKKR 97.7 KICKER FM.
D.Mark Mitchell is sports director for iHeart Media, Alabama Dixie Boys State director and vice president of the A-O Sports Council.