By Wil Crews
The history of Opelika girls’ flag football began with a bang last Thursday.
The Bulldogs defeated Loachapoka in their inaugural game, shutting out the Indians 46-0.
Opelika head coach Jaclyn Button said she was pleased to see her team play well after what she described as an offseason of learning.
“Initially we were all just kind of learning the sport,” she said. “The first couple of weeks were just throwing and catching the ball, trying to figure out positions, that kind of thing. So, we really kind of had to figure out what roles people would kind of step into too. Nobody has played before.”
Heading into the game, Button said she hoped the girls could implement the plan they had worked on in practice.
“We just wanted to execute a lot of the stuff we have been doing in practice,” she said. “We really wanted to see that success on offense. On defense, our goal was again trying to shut the other team down and see if we could get an interception in the right spots.”
From the first drive of the game — when Opelika quarterback Morgan Watts ran in the initial 10-yard touchdown — it was apparent the Lady Bulldogs were well-prepared to execute.
Just as the offense made an immediate impact on its first drive, the Opelika defense aptly matched its counterpart on its first appearance with a Haley Sanders 20-yard pick six.
The third score of the game came in quick succession via a 25-yard touchdown pass from Watts to Ashanti Thomas. The final score of the dominant first half came on a 5-yard edge run from Niya Walton.
The second half of the game was more of the same — Bulldog dominace — beginning with another Watts-to-Thomas touchdown connection. Jamiah Williams then came in to get reps at quarterback and quickly put her stamp on the game, passing to Sanders for the Bulldogs’ sixth touchdown of the game.
By game’s end, another pick-six and a plethora of highlight plays had fulfilled Button’s hopes for week one, she said.
“We were able to execute some plays and see some success,” she said. “That’s really what we wanted to see in this first game. I think we met expectations and this just shows us how much more we can add on from here.”
Despite her team’s — and her own (Button is the varsity girls’ soccer coach too.) — inexperience with the game of football, Button said the group’s experience in other fields of athletics has contributed to a great start of the season.
“We have some good athletes and I think that can translate to a lot of different positions offensively and defensively,” she said. “Across all kinds of sports, a lot of different athletes all are coming together, which I think has been a real positive for us — players getting to interact with people they haven’t normally worked with and just all learning it together has been a really great experience for the whole team.”
While the multi-sport athletes and seven seniors on the team provide good leadership, Button is just as excited for the opportunity ahead of the girls who are playing their first-ever high school sport, she said.
“That’s exciting too,” Button said of her first-time athletes. “Getting them playing time; getting them used to what it’s like — game situations and game days — we’re definitely figuring all that out together which has been really fun.”
Moving forward, Button said she is hopeful the Opelika community can get behind her new team.
“Come out and support these girls,” she said. “It’s just exciting for them to be this inaugural team and to represent girls in a new sport. I just think it would be so great if we can have community behind us and get everyone excited and make this hopefully a legitimate sport in the state of Alabama. Give these girls some hype because they deserve it after all this hard work they are putting in.”
The Lady Bulldogs will be back in action for their second game today (Sept. 30), against Eufaula. Button said she wants to see improvement on route running, execution and communication.
“In the game [the other] night we even had a couple of people almost run into each other, so definitely we are working on sharping up those routes,” she said. “Just kind of quick play calling and getting to the spot … we only have 25 seconds from every snap. And then the main thing is just communication on defense; getting them used to calling out plays. Real communication on both offense and defense is going to take us to the next level.“