The Opelika Bulldogs have started the postseason on the right note by taking care of business at home in the opening two rounds. Tonight, the Bulldogs look to keep up their impressive play on the road.
Opelika (10-1, 5-0) travels to face Hueytown (11-1, 6-0) in the Class 6A quarterfinals. A win for Opelika sends the Bulldogs to the state semifinals for only the fifth time in program history.
The Bulldogs are hoping for better weather but the same results tonight as they had in their second-round showdown with St. Paul’s last week.
Opelika rode the momentum of Jaylen Stinson’s blocked field goal return touchdown to end the first half into a second half in which the Bulldogs dominated. The Bulldogs’ defense only allowed a 40-yard field goal in the game’s final two quarters, and the offense scored 14 points to give the home squad a hard-fought 20-10 victory.
“We had talked all week and thought the weather was going to break for us. Obviously, it didn't,” Opelika head coach Erik Speakman said. “We tell them all the time there's going to be a time in the playoffs where you're probably going to have to play in a rain game like that. Just the fact that we hung in there against a really good St. Paul's team and really fought out and scraped out a victory when there were times we probably could have laid down was big.”
The Bulldogs’ success on offense in the second half against the Saints was especially impressive. After being shut out in the first half — Opelika’s only points came on Stinson’s special-teams score — the offense settled down and put together scoring drives of 12 plays and nine plays to first take and then extend its lead.
Aside from adding 14 points to the scoreboard, the Bulldogs’ long possessions took eight minutes and 24 seconds off the clock, which left the Saints with a lot of ground to cover in far too little time.
“It was really big for us because of the defense we were playing against, too,” Speakman said. “To not only grind out long drives in crucial situations in the second half but to do it against a really good St. Paul's defense really gives our kids some confidence that they can move the ball, especially when we're trying to run clock if we can get a lead and really limit the possessions of another team. That was big for us last Friday going into this week, just to give those guys some confidence that we can take a game over.”
Opelika quarterback Brody Davis and running backs Eric Watts and JD Tolbert will look to continue that play tonight against a Golden Gophers’ squad stocked with talent.
The Golden Gophers enter tonight’s showdown averaging 37.8 points per game partly thanks to its stellar running backs in Alabama commit Roydell Williams and UAB commit Antonio Mason. Speakman said Hueytown quarterback Dave Young has made considerable strides this season and also named receivers Quindarrius Mayes and Jordan Ivory as important pieces in the Golden Gophers’ offense.
On the other side, Speakman pointed to the brother duo of Navy defensive line commit Mike Hines and fellow defensive lineman Mikel Hines as well as linebackers Emmanuel Hayes and Gregory Trammell as players to watch for.
Speakman stressed the importance of limiting the damage Williams and Mason do and explained that Opelika could frustrate both backs if they can hem them up consistently to open the contest. Additionally, he said the Bulldogs must win the kicking game, limit Hueytown’s explosive plays, have sound tackling, run the ball effectively and convert any explosive-play opportunities in order to have a chance.
Speakman said this players have talked throughout this playoff run about being different compared to any Opelika team that came before them, and to do that requires the Bulldogs to keep winning. The objective is to become the third Opelika squad ever to reach the state title game and the first to win it, but Speakman and his players know they still need two more wins to reach that step.
“It's just a business-like approach every week. Hueytown is the next hurdle and the next game, and that's the only game that matters,” Speakman said. “If we're fortunate enough to win Friday, then we'll deal with whoever is next.”