Last week, the Opelika Bulldogs had a bye at the halfway point of their season. Tonight, they return to play at home against a region rival.
Opelika (4-1, 2-0) looks to remain in the driver’s seat in Region 3-6A when it faces Benjamin Russell (3-3, 0-2) in Bulldog Stadium. The showdown is the 75th edition of a series that dates back to 1922.
Opelika made the most of its first week without a game by resting its older guys in practice and giving the up-and-comers more reps. The Bulldogs are eager to return to their winning ways after a 63-28 loss to Central on Sept. 20.
Opelika scored more points on Central than anyone has since October 2017, but the defense’s inability to stop the high-flying Red Devils’ offense forced Opelika head coach Erik Speakman and his assistants to sharpen some things up during the bye week.
“Our offense played really well that night. Eric Watts had a big night, and Omar (Holloway) and Brody (Davis). We were really happy with that and not as happy with the defensive performance,” Speakman said. “We looked at (cutting down explosive plays) from the film. You actually get it put on film where it's hard to show on practice sometimes, the proper technique and where a DB should be playing versus where a receiver is and those type things.
“We were able to show the kids on the film and then get outside on the turf and show them exactly what we want out of it. Hopefully, it will carry forward.”
Speakman is hopeful the loss to the reigning Class 7A champs was a temporary setback in what has been a promising fall. Now, the mission is to beat Benjamin Russell for the seventh time in the last eight meetings.
Speakman said the Wildcats’ tenacity is easy to see from film, and the team is hitting on all cylinders with its run game now. Speakman complimented running back Hezekiah Hunter as well as quarterback Carter Smith, who has been banged up in the lead-up to this game.
Speakman also pointed to Elijah Spivey and Xzavia Stowes on offense and Brett Pitts on defense as Benjamin Russell players the Bulldogs have to account for.
Speakman has seen Opelika’s offense get into a groove before the bye week, and his main goal tonight is for that progress to continue. Defensively, Speakman is looking to cut down on the misalignment and missed tackles that have popped up in the last two games against Central and Wetumpka.
The Bulldogs are seeking their first region title since 2016. A win over the Wildcats would get the team one step closer to making it happen.
“It's a big game for us. Obviously, it's a region game, and those are all very important,” Speakman said. “We've played each other a lot, and the two towns are very similar. They're old mill towns that just love their high school football and really support their school systems. It's been a big game here for years, and it will be the same Friday.”