The Opelika Bulldogs are on the verge of playing in their first state championship game since 2016. In order to advance to the Super 7, however, they’ll have to win on the road one more time.
Opelika (11-1, 5-0) will head southwest tonight to take on Spanish Fort (8-4, 5-3) in the Class 6A semifinals. The winner moves on to face the winner of the Pinson Valley versus Oxford game in the title game on Friday, Dec. 6.
Opelika left home for the first time this postseason last week and walked away with an impressive victory. The Bulldogs took care of Hueytown on Friday in a 45-24 win in which Opelika running back Eric Watts ran for over 300 yards and three touchdowns and the Bulldogs’ defense forced five turnovers to shut down the Golden Gophers.
“The biggest thing that stands out is our offense and just the production we had on that side of the ball where they could move the ball and score a bunch of points for us. Hueytown gave us some problems early in the game with their offense and just allowed our defense to settle down and hang in there,” Opelika head coach Erik Speakman said. “A lot of the times when you don't play a team and you're not familiar with them, you really don't know how fast kids are or how big they are. It takes a little while to get used to the speed of the game of your opponent if you don't really know what they've had in the past.
“We were able to put up 31 points in the first half and 14 more in the second half to pull away.”
The main story out of Opelika’s latest win was the multiple big plays it made on offense. While Watts broke off several big runs — two of his three touchdowns came on runs of 61 and 68 yards — Opelika quarterback Brody Davis and the Bulldogs’ receivers came through on several deep shots that sent Alabama commit Roydell Williams and the rest of the Golden Gophers packing.
Thanks to a great performance on offense and a first-team defense that has only given up six points in the second half of its three playoff games, the Bulldogs are on the cusp of practically playing in their own backyard when the Class 6A title game is played in Jordan-Hare Stadium.
“This was a goal that we set at the beginning of the year,” Speakman said. “We felt like it was a realistic goal as long as we took it one game at a time and focused on the next opponent and all the things you tell your kids about not looking ahead. If you don't play well this Friday night, then you'll just be going over there and buying a $12 ticket to watch Spanish Fort play. Our kids have done a great job just focusing on the team that we're playing and playing well.”
The Bulldogs hit the road to take on a Toros team led by head coach Ben Blackmon, the brother of former Opelika head coach Brian Blackmon. Spanish Fort is led by Ole Miss commit Kris Adams-Draine, who moved over from receiver to give the offense a spark. In addition to leading the team’s run-first offense, Adams-Draine also plays cornerback and returns kickoffs.
Speakman also applauded the Toros’ defense for being big and physical, adding they are almost never misaligned. In addition to Adams-Draine, Speakman said running backs Johnny Morris and Zachariah Hixon play important roles in the Spanish Fort offense.
Speakman said Opelika’s main objective against Spanish Fort is to stop Adams-Draine or at the very least slow him down. Additionally, Speakman called on the Opelika offense to run the ball consistently and to convert any big-play opportunities that present themselves.
The Bulldogs have been on the cusp of their first championship for the last decade, including a 2016 run to the Class 6A title game in which then-freshmen James Dawson and Jaylen Stinson earned playing time.
Opelika could find itself playing for it all on Auburn University’s home field once again, but it must first beat one of Class 6A’s perennial powerhouses to do so.
“It would just be a big reward for our seniors and then the rest of the kids who have come through our program that watched back in 2012 and 2016,” Speakman said. “Just the experience you get of getting to play in that game and the atmosphere is just a huge reward for all your hard work in the season.”