By D. Mark Mitchell
The Bulldogs scored 20 points in the second half to beat Park Crossing 27-21 in a thriller at Bulldog Stadium last Friday night. With the win, Opelika moves to 9-3 overall and advances to the quarterfinals of the Class 6A state playoffs.
Opelika trailed 14-7 at halftime, with the lone first-half score coming on an 11-yard touchdown pass from Cade Blackmon to Melvin Billingsley at the 1:31 mark of the second quarter. Tyler Sellers added the extra point.
Park Crossing’s final score of the game came in the third quarter on an 8-yard TD run by quarterback Cameron Taylor, extending the Thunderbird lead to 21-7 with eight minutes left in the quarter.
Conner Smith sprinted 23 yards for an Opelika touchdown with 1:07 left in the third quarter, closing the gap to 21-14. Cade Blackmon threw an 84-yard pass to Omar Holloway for a TD, with a Seller’s extra point tying the game 21-21. Opelika’s final score came on a 13-yard scoring run by Smith. Sellers’s extra-point attempt failed leaving Opelika ahead 27-21 with 5:25 left in the game.
The Bulldog defense came up with a huge stop, forcing the Thunderbirds to turn the ball over on downs on the ensuing possession.
During his post-game radio show, Opelika head football coach Caleb Ross said he was proud of his team’s resilience.
“I am so proud for these kids. They have worked hard and are buying in,” Ross said. “We continued to play tough defensively and scored 27 points on offense … total team win. We were down 14 twice and never panicked. I am proud we are still playing football. We are one of eight teams left in the state with a chance.”
OPELIKA AT HILLCREST
Opelika travels to Tuscaloosa Friday to play Hillcrest in the quarterfinals round of the Class 6A playoffs. The 9-3 Patriots defeated Saraland 34-27 last Friday in Saraland. Hillcrest beat Stanhope 34-0 in the first round of the AHSAA playoffs. The Patriots opened the season 0-2 after losing to Oxford 21-0 and Oak Mountain 28-27, but reeled off seven-straight wins over Northridge 31-0, Bessemer City 37-7, McAdory 27-7, Tuscaloosa County 26-6, Paul Bryant 22-15, Brookwood 47-13 and Selma 43-8. Thompson ended the winning streak with a 34-27 win over Hillcrest. The Patriots have scored 355 points and allowed 165 compared to Opelika’s 337 points scored and 189 points allowed.
Sam Adams, in his fourth year at Hillcrest, is 37-12 overall. Opelika is 2-0 alltime against Hillcrest with both wins coming in 2015.
The Dawgs opened the 2015 season with a 34-20 win at Hillcrest and ended the Patriots season with a 48-0 win in the second round of the 2015 playoffs.
KEYS TO VICTORY
Opelika will need to play error-free and a great game to win. Hillcrest is a good team that normally doesn’t make mistakes.
The Bulldogs will need to establish control of both lines of scrimmage. The Opelika defense has caused turnovers and played tough all year. Offensively, Opelika will need to keep the clock moving and score points when they enter the red zone, making no mistakes or turnovers.
I predict Opelika will win the game because they have played in big games and know how to handle the pressure.
LISTEN TO OPELIKA VS HILLCREST/ WKKR 97.7
Fans can listen to Opelika v. Hillcrest game Friday night by tuning into 97.7 Kicker FM or online at www.kickerfm.com.
The broadcast team consists of D.Mark Mitchell, former Opelika quarterback Jeff Sasser and Mason Black will report from the Bulldog sideline. The Coach Caleb Ross pre-game wshow is set for 6:30 p.m., and kickoff at 7 p.m.
D.Mark Mitchell is sports director for iHeart Media, Alabama Dixie Boys State director and vice president of the A-O Sports Council.