By D. Mark Mitchell
OHS and SSHS last played in 2013 at Bulldog Stadium, with the Panthers winning only their second game over Opelika in the 22-game series that night, 3-0.
In 2014, a classification change created the 7A division, which caused three of OHS’s rivals, Smiths Station, Central and Auburn, to move out of the 6A Region up to the 7A division.
The Opelika administration wanted to continue to play all three of these teams, with both Central and Auburn agreeing to continue playing Opelika.
The administration at Smiths Station chose not to renew the two-year contract with Opelika after 2013, even though many wanted the two schools to continue playing, given that they are only 20 miles apart.
Since the classification change, the Panthers saw former head Coach, Mark Rose leave for North Jackson after six seasons.
Smiths Station hired Jason Dukes, 11-9 in two seasons, to replace Rose. In 2016, Dukes resigned as the Panther Head Coach.
Adam Fossett was then hired, and will be starting his second season after going 2-8 last year.
Opelika and SSHS were not scheduled to play this year. Both schools were scheduled to play teams from Columbus, Ga. Smiths Station was scheduled to play Harris County and Opelika was scheduled to play Carver of Columbus.
The GHSAA reclassified in 2017, causing the non-region dates to change.
Carver had to cancel the second game of the contract with Opelika and Harris Country canceled with SSHS. The change left OHS and SSHS with no game to open the season.
Former OHS head football coach and athletic director Brian Blackmon reached out to Coach Fossett for a game. The two agreed to play this year in Smiths Station and sign a two-year contract for 2018-19.
OPELIKA v SMITHS STATION
Coach Caleb Ross makes his coaching debut Friday night, with kickoff set for 7 p.m.
The Dawgs held a scrimmage under the lights last Friday at Bulldog Stadium. The team went through a game simulation/rehearsal for one last look at the team before the season started.
Smiths Station, coming off a 2-8 record in 2016, is looking to replace several starters and transfers. They will start six players with no varsity experience.
(Note – Smiths Station won one game last year. R.E. Lee forfeited a win over the Panthers because of an ineligible player)
Opelika has a few question marks as well.
How will the Dawgs look under Coach Ross?
Will quarterback, Cade Blackmon be able to play up to expectations?
Will Branton Barnett be able to replace Weldrin Ford at running back? Who will be the go-to receiver? Who will replace Zach Yancey, last year’s leading tackler? Will the offense and defensive lines control the line of scrimmage?
As you can tell, this is a typical first game, with both teams having new players on the field.
Despite the questions, Opelika has the advantage and should win the game. Remember, it’s a game!
Turnovers and unforeseen mistakes can change the outcome quickly.
The Dawgs are coming off a trip to the 6A Championship game in the Super 7 at Jordan – Hare Stadium last year.
Coach Ross brings a tremendous amount of knowledge when it comes to big games, coaching in eight Championship games, six as an assistant coach and two as a head coach.
Ross led McGill-Toolen to their first 7A state championship in 2015 and took the Yellow Jackets back to the Super 7 Championship last year, losing to Hoover 17-7. I look for Opelika to win the game!
The Bulldogs should control both lines of scrimmage, have more team speed and have a winning tradition. I am not saying the Panthers can’t beat Opelika. The old saying “You have to play the game,” is true.
LISTEN TO OPELIKA VS SMITHS STATION ON WKKR 97.7 FM and ONLINE
Opelika fans can listen to the Bulldogs each week on WKKR 97.7 KICKER FM and online at kickerfm.com.
You can download the iHeart radio app on your smart phone for free. Search WKKR and listen on your phone.
Former Opelika Coach Larry Gore and Former OHS QB Jeff Sasser will provide live commentary. I (D. Mark Mitchell) will handle the play-by-play and Mason Black will report from the OHS sideline.
The Coach Ross Pre-game show begins at 6:30 p.m., live pregame at stadium starts at 6:45, and kickoff set for 7 pm.
You will hear Coach Ross’s thoughts at halftime as he heads to the locker room.
Coverage continues after the game with our Live Post Game show with Coach Ross.
You will be able to hear his thoughts minutes after games.
OPELIKA, SEPT. 1
Opelika will host archrival Auburn High School, next Friday at Bulldog Stadium.
Fans planning to attend should purchase tickets prior to the game.
Opelika home tickets can be purchased at the following three locations:
Bubbas Medicine Shop, located at 512 Second Ave., from 8 a.m. – 6 p.m.
Victory Designs, located at 1525 Second Ave, from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.
O Town Ice Cream, located at 815 S. Railroad Ave., from 10 a.m. – 9 p.m.
The cost of each ticket is $7. Auburn fans can go online to preptix.com to purchase tickets.
Opelika City Schools implement a ‘no cross over’ policy for all home games.
These means no one will be able to access both sides of the stands inside the stadium. Auburn fans will use the visiting entrance.
OCS implements a sit-down policy at Bulldog Stadium during the game. Spectators are not allowed to walk around continuously. This will allow all fans to enjoy the game!
The Opelika Middle School seventh and eighth-grade football teams will host a jamboree Aug. 26, starting at 9 a.m. The jamboree will feature many middle school teams that play 15 minutes apart. The event is a chance for OMS and other schools to scrimmage before the season starts. The first game kicks off at 9 a.m.
D.Mark Mitchell is sports director for iHeart Media, Alabama Dixie Boys State director and vice president of the A-O Sports Council.