SPANISH FORT — Just when it looked like everything was going right for Opelika in the Class 6A semifinals on Friday, Spanish Fort quarterback Kris Abrams-Draine proved he could do no wrong.
Abrams-Draine made big run after big run against the Bulldogs, but none were bigger than his carries in the second half of Friday’s game. After Opelika built a 24-14 lead early in the third quarter, Abrams-Draine put up two long rushing touchdowns while the Toros’ defense shut down the Bulldogs’ offense to leave Opelika with a 27-24 defeat.
Spanish Fort (9-4, 5-3) advances to the state championship game against Oxford on Friday, December 6.
“No. 1 (Abrams-Draine) for Spanish Fort was the difference in the game,” Opelika head coach Erik Speakman said. “Our offense played really good tonight. We didn’t put the numbers that we usually do, and Spanish Fort did a good job of limiting some of the run game. Our kids, they played hard and fought to the very end. Really, we got beat by a really good football player tonight in No. 1 for Spanish Fort.”
Abrams-Draine dealt the final of his many blows to the Bulldogs’ defense shortly after a major gamble by Opelika (11-2, 5-0) didn’t pay off.
Leading 24-20 with 10:05 to go in the game, Opelika started a drive on its own 33 and methodically worked its way downfield thanks to powerful runs by Eric Watts and JD Tolbert. The drive, however, stalled out on the Spanish Fort 34-yard line to set up a 4th-and-2 with 5:36 showing on the clock.
Speakman and the Opelika coaches sent Opelika punter Jaylen Stinson and the punting unit out on the field before calling a timeout, leaving them with two to work with down the stretch. After discussing what to do on the sidelines, Stinson returned, caught the snap and took off to the right.
Stinson, who is a Purdue commit with plenty of speed, had inadvertently converted on fourth down two drives earlier when he bobbled the snap, took off in a full sprint and got past the first-down marker. This time, however, he came up two yards short, giving the Toros possession on their 32-yard line with 5:33 left in the fourth.
“We knew what they were going to be in in punt safe. We ran basically a Q stretch-type play. It was about a yard short,” Speakman said. “Maybe if we cut it back, we might have gotten the ball in there. They just made a play.”
Abrams-Draine turned countless carries into explosive plays Friday, and he did so the next time he touched the ball following the turnover on downs. As Bulldogs’ defenders fell harmlessly around him, the Ole Miss commit ran the ball up the middle then bounced it out to the right before turning on the jets.
Sixty-six yards and an extra point later, the Bulldogs found themselves down 27-24 with 4:51 remaining in the game.
The Bulldogs still had plenty of time to answer, but their offense was unable to sustain the drive it so desperately needed. Starting on its 20-yard line, Opelika managed to gain one yard before two consecutive incompletions meant Stinson and the punting unit had to come back out.
Opelika’s only chance now hinged on stopping Abrams-Draine, and he had no interest in allowing that to happen.
The Bulldogs forced a 3rd-and-8 situation with 2:59 to go, but true to form Abrams-Draine bobbled the ball up in the air, reeled it back in, continued up the middle of the field and fought his way past the first-down marker for a 13-yard gain. Somehow, someway, the Toros’ big-time talent had moved the chains yet again.
The Bulldogs still forced a last-chance fourth-and-1 with 45 seconds to go, but Abrams-Draine again converted. Opelika, absolutely desperate for a miracle, challenged the spot only for the call to be confirmed.
Abrams-Draine ended the victory with 21 carries for 283 yards and three touchdowns. He was 1-for-4 passing for nine yards.
Opelika (11-2, 5-0) seemed in great shape after entering the halftime break with a 17-14 lead and quickly adding to it in the third quarter.
Quarterback Brody Davis and the Bulldogs wasted little time in stretching their lead to 10 points in the third, building an eight-play, 64-yard drive that ended when Watts scored on a 13-yard carry. Watts’ second score of the night made it a 24-14 contest with 8:53 remaining in the third.
Watts ended the night with 22 carries for 138 yards and two touchdowns.
Like he did later in the game, Abrams-Draine came right back. Two plays after Watts’ second touchdown run, the Spanish Fort quarterback broke away on a 59-yard run with 7:56 to go in the third. The Toros missed the extra point, leaving Opelika with a 24-20 advantage.
Opelika’s lone third-quarter score was the end of a 24-point scoring streak that took the team from struggling to surging.
After falling behind 14-0 thanks to rushing touchdowns by Johnny Morris and Abrams-Draine, the Bulldogs found pay dirt for the first time when Watts took a 4th-and-1 carry five yards to cut Spanish Fort’s lead to seven with 8:02 left until halftime.
Davis did the honors on the Bulldogs’ next possession, keeping on a would-be hand-off for a six-yard score that tied the game 14-14 with 3:52 to go in the second quarter. Davis had five carries for five yards and the score and completed 11 passes for 100 yards.
Special teams hurt Opelika late in the loss, but the Bulldogs caught a big break in the game’s third phase just before halftime. After the Spanish Fort punter slipped and fell on the Toros’ 32-yard line with 20 seconds until the intermission, Davis quickly hit Jamius Mitchell on a 17-yard pass to give Opelika kicker Marshall Meyers better position to work with.
Meyers made good on the field-goal attempt, nailing the 36-yarder to give Opelika a 17-14 lead — its first of the contest — going into the locker room.
The frenetic pace of the second quarter was followed by an intense third capped off by a downright wild fourth. The Bulldogs came up just shy of the victory, but given everything the team had accomplished in 2019, Speakman was sure to tell them to hold their heads high.
“(I’ll tell them) to be very proud of what they accomplished,” Speakman said. “To get to the semifinals is such a tough thing. People don’t realize how hard it is to make a run at this thing. These seniors did a great job of leading our team and getting us to this point.”
Spanish Fort 27, Opelika 24
OPE — 0 17 7 0 — 24
SPA — 14 0 6 7 — 27
SPA — Johnny Morris 16-yard run (XP good), 11:13
SPA — Kris Abrams-Draine 17-yard run (XP good), 1:16
OPE — Eric Watts 5-yard run (XP good), 8:02
OPE — Brody Davis 6-yard run (XP good), 3:52
OPE — Marshall Meyers 36-yard field goal, 0:02
OPE — Watts 13-yard run (XP good), 8:53
SPA — Abrams-Draine 59-yard run (XP no good), 7:56
SPA — Abrams-Draine 66-yard run (XP good), 4:51