After a tough and at times trying regular season, the Opelika Bulldogs enter the playoffs as Region 3-6A’s top seed. As a result, the Bulldogs open the Class 6A playoffs under the lights of Bulldog Stadium.
Opelika (8-1, 5-0) starts postseason play tonight at home by taking on McAdory (6-4, 3-3). The Bulldogs are hopeful that the showdown with the Yellow Jackets is the start of another big playoff push like the team’s run to the state championship game three years ago.
The Bulldogs ended their regular season on Oct. 25 with a 44-6 thrashing of Vigor prior to a bye last week. The week without a game was a welcomed sight for Opelika head coach Erik Speakman and his players, who made the most of the extra rest before the most important stretch of the year.
“I believe — and I hope we’ll see this going into the playoffs — that (the bye week) will be big for us. We’ve had a few off weeks before leading into a deep playoff run where you play three, four or hopefully five games. I think it just does a lot for your team to get them re-energized,” Speakman said. “We were able to rest some guys against Vigor, and that’s given them basically three good weeks off so they could rehab. We didn’t have any major injuries, but we had your normal bumps and bruises, a couple twisted ankles and knees that were bothering people.
“(Our trainers) were able to get those guys healed up, and hopefully they’ll be ready to go Friday.”
The Bulldogs had the benefit of knowing for two weeks that McAdory was the team’s first-round opponent. Even with the heads-up, Speakman knows Opelika’s go-to playmakers like quarterback Brody Davis, running back Eric Watts and defensive lineman Miles Magee better show up ready to play.
Speakman applauded the work of the Yellow Jackets, saying it’s evident they’ve gotten better as the season progressed. First-year McAdory head coach Bart Sessions didn’t come over until the summer, but the team has caught up to his lead and has excelled as Sessions orchestrated an offense that is averaging 28 points per game.
Speakman said things turned around for McAdory when they moved running back De’Arrion Riddle to receiver and allowed Austin Clarke to take over tailback duties. Additionally, Speakman said quarterback Desmon Dortch as well as defensive linemen Devonte’ Agee and Tyler Key are Yellow Jackets who stood out.
Speakman stressed the importance of his defense lining up correctly and not surrendering explosive plays. On the other side, Speakman called on his offense to move the ball consistently, avoid turnovers and prevent penalties that put the Bulldogs in bad situations.
Now that it’s officially win-or-go-home season, Speakman emphasized how small the margin of error is for all 22 on the field.
“You can’t have a bad night, or you’ll end up getting beat by somebody. Whether it’s your kicking game, turnovers, giving up big plays, penalties that may cost you on a drive, you never know when the big play is going to happen,” Speakman said. “When you’re sitting there fighting to be 1-0 at the end of Friday night and you don’t know when that play is going to happen, it really keeps you on your toes on making sure that we’re playing hard on every snap.”
Luckily for Speakman and the Bulldogs, Opelika will have a home crowd on its side tonight. The Bulldogs accomplished their goal of winning the region, and as a result they’ll have the raucous Bulldogs’ faithful supporting them come kickoff.
“I’ve talked to several coaches who have played here in the playoffs before,” Speakman said. “Our atmosphere, you don’t get many places. It’s kind of a small stadium with a lot of people that pack it in, and then you have the big videoboard. All the visiting teams come in, and they stand there and look at it.
“We have a great atmosphere here. Hopefully, that will be true on Friday night. We’ll have a lot of Bulldogs fans over here in red and black, and they can help pull us through.”