By D Mark Mitchell
The Opelika Bulldogs dream season ended last Friday night at Jordan-Hare Stadium against Hoover. The Bucs won 31-0 in front of a Super 6 record crowd of almost 30,000.
Thinking about this year’s Bulldog team made me decide to write a different kind of column this week. I am going to share with you my thoughts about the Opelika season.
It started way last May when OHS travelled to Eufaula for a spring game. This was the first game for several players including quarterback Mathew Christian, a freshman then.
The Dawgs didn’t look a playoff team in that game, let alone a team that could play for the 6A championship in December.
Coach Blackmon and his staff knew they had to get to work and improve to have a winning record or make the playoffs.
There were many challenges during summer workouts, I won’t go into detail because I am too close to the program and most of these problems were not made public. (These were team violations only and were handled internally, as they should be, by the coaching staff.)
The summer workouts proved to be good for this team. Coach Blackmon moved two-year starter Calvin Bryant from quarterback to running back and installed rising sophomore Mathew Christian as starting quarterback.
Mathew and other players who were going to start in the fall for the first time needed the extra time to improve. They competed in several seven on seven competitions which allowed the young offensive players to learn as well as get used to each other. The team was starting to come together.
When fall practice started the team went from 99 to 87 players. They worked for three weeks before playing Enterprise in the fall pre-season game at Troy University.
The starters played three quarters with the reserves playing the fourth quarter. The Dawgs won the game 27-7. This was a huge confidence builder for the Bulldogs.
The first game of the season was in Alexander City against Benjamin Russell, a team that we used to play every year because they were in our Area. This was the first game against the Wildcats in 13 years.
The Dawgs lost 14-7 due to several turnovers and 16 penalties.
OHS opened the home schedule in week two against Robert E. Lee, a Region game. This was an easy 33-7 win for Opelika, which gave us a boost that we needed because we were playing Central the next week.
The Red Devils were coming off an upset win over top ranked Carver the prior week.In front of a standing room only crowd the Bulldogs played a near perfect game and won 37-7.
Week three was an an unusual Saturday trip to Montgomery to play Carver at Crampton bowl. The game was changed from Thursday to Saturday because ESPNU wanted ASU to play Arkansas-Pine Bluff on Thursday on TV.
This was the same night Auburn University played LSU at Jordan-Hare Stadium. The band could not travel to the game because they work at the stadium to raise money.
Coach Blackmon tried to change the time and location of the game but had no luck. This was a tough game for the Dawgs. Carver has the number one quarterback in the state and several other D-1 prospects. The Wolverines won 47-27, which left OHS with a 2-2 record.
We hosted another old rival, Valley, the following week for homecoming. The Rams were shutout, 35-0.
This was the half way point of the season and Opelika was 3-2 overall and 2-1 in the region.
Game six was against Lanier at Crampton Bowl. After trailing 12-0 at halftime the Bulldogs scored 43 second half points to win the game.
The Dawgs travelled to Smiths Station the following week for another Region game. OHS won 21-3 to improve to 4-2 heading to another Region game against Jeff Davis. The Bulldogs blew out the Vols 37-13.
We were on a four-game winning streak heading to play our arch rival , Auburn High School.
The game was in Auburn at a packed Duck Samford Stadium. The Bulldogs made six turnovers in the game and lost 32-23 in week nine. The loss dropped us from number two to number three in the Region.
The last regular season game was in Hoover against the Bucs at Regions Park on the following Thursday. The loss to Auburn combined with playing the number one team in the state on a Thursday night proved to be too much. Hoover won 30-7.
Since we played our last regular season game on Thursday night, this gave our coaches an extra day to prepare for our first playoff game against Pelham on the road.
The Dawgs made their second trip in a row to the Birmingham area to play 8-2 Pelham.
Opelika scored the most points of the season on its way to beating Pelham 49-23 to advance to round two, a battle with Daphne at Bulldog Stadium.
We were one and seven versus the Trojans before this game. We won the game 24-17 to advance to the quarterfinals for the first time in six years, back when Spence McCracken was Opelika’s head coach.
The win set up a rematch against rival Auburn at Duck Samford Stadium. This was the first time the two rivals had met in the playoffs.
The game was one people in this area will remember for a long time. The Bulldogs defeated the Tigers 8-7. OHS scored the winning touchdown on fourth down and eight from the AHS 34 yard line.
Mathew Christian threw a perfect pass to Marquise Fulton for a TD with 44 seconds left in the game.
The Bulldog defense held Auburn as the clock ran out stopping a five-game Auburn win streak over Opelika..
This was one of the best games I have seen Opelika play in my 33 years of broadcasting. The win moved Opelika to the semi-finals for the first time since 2006.
We had to go back to Crampton bowl to play Carver, with the winner heading to the 6A championship game.
Crampton bowl was almost sold out for the rematch between the Bulldogs and the Wolverines.
Carver quarterback Jeremy Johnson, the number one prospect in the state, had to be contained for the Dawgs to win.
OHS jumped out to a early 14-0 lead and then held Carver out of the end zone with less than a minute to play. Trailing 27-21, Carver mounted a drive to the OHS five yard line. Facing third down and goal from the five, Johnson tried to hit a receiver in the end zone but Malcom Buggs jumped four feet into the air to intercept the pass and returned it 103 yards for a TD.
The Opelika crowd went crazy as they celebrated the win which put the Bulldogs in their first ever 6A championship game. Opelika finally made history by advancing to the championship game.
Last week was one of the greatest weeks in Opelika High School history. Everyone was talking about them “DAWGS.” Everywhere I went, people wanted to talk about the OHS football team. It was a fun week for every Opelika supporter. We were playing for the state championship for the first time in school history.
Wow, we have had many great coaches at OHS before Blackmon, all of whom tried to get us in this game: Larry Gore, Joe Wilson, Doug Barfield and Spence McCracken. All great coaches but none of them could ever quite get us to the finals.
Opelika played Hoover last Friday night in front of a record crowd of 30,106, all but 9,000 of whom were on the Opelika side. This was a beautiful sight! The crowd stunned many including AHSAA Director Steve Savarese.
He said, “Wow” as he smiled, referring to the Bulldog supporters.
The “Dawg Walk” also made history. The line started in the east corner of the stadium and wrapped three-fourths of the way around the stadium, with people standing seven to 10 deep all along the walk.
Hoover won the game 31-0, but Opelika walked away with their heads high because nobody gave them a chance to make it to the championship game in the first place.
The season was rewarding for the players, coaches, supporters and fans. We have waited a long time to get to this game.
This team brought this town together and put smiles on many faces. We live in the greatest little city in the United States. The 2012 OHS football team brought all of us together and made us proud of our team.
I am proud for many people. The players, assistant coaches, the cheerleaders, the band, supporters, fans and head coach Brian Blackmon. Blackmon was hired after 14-year head coach Spence McCracken retired.
Many wondered if he was the right choice to keep improving our program because he had no head coaching experience. Dr. Mark D. Neighbors, along with the school board and I knew he was the right choice for the job. In four short years he has proved us right. He guided his team, our team, to the 6A championship game for the very first time.
Blackmon is a great husband, father, leader and head coach. He has high morals and does not hide his religious beliefs. He is a man of God and this is the kind of person we need around our young people.
I want to tell the team and the coaches “Thank you” for making me and the rest of my fellow Opelikans smile and enjoy this football season. Earning the trip to the 6A championship game is a dream come true!
Players, coaches and fans, hold your heads high. The 2012 OHS football team will go down in history as one of Opelika’s greatest teams.