MONTGOMERY, Alabama -- The Opelika Bulldogs used a stingy defense to get a 24-7 region win over Sidney Lanier at the Cramton Bowl on Thursday night. The short handed Poets only had 45 players at the game due to 10 or more players out due to COVID-19. The Poets defense kept them in the game for the first half, but ran out of gas in the second half.
It was a defensive battle for most of the game as Opelika scored on a pick-6 along with a punt block in the second half to open up the game outscoring Lanier 14-0. Opelika had a 10-7 lead at the half and both team struggled to get much going on offense. "We got some energy on that blocked punt after a slow first half," said Bulldogs head coach Eric Speakman. "We're coming off two emotional losses but this is a region win so it is a good win. At Opelika, we are known for good defenses and they played well tonight, we just need to keep the offense rolling. We had a few players nicked up and we need to get them healthy."
Both defenses created turnovers to start the game. On the Bulldogs first possession, the Poets picked off a Bulldogs pass and gave the ball to Lanier. With Lanier with the football, Nick Covington picked off a Poets pass and the Bulldogs offense took back the ball.
With 6:19 left in the first quarter, J.T. McArdle hit Kaden Cooper on a wheel route and scored on a 55-yard touchdown pass play for the Bulldogs. With the score, Opelika took a 7-0 lead. "Kaden did a great job of running the route and to get open," said QB McArdle. "The offensive line gave me time to find him wide open. We showed heart coming out working together and get that region win."
Sidney Lanier (2-1) came right back and with 3:04 left in the first quarter, Braylon Jones found Zariah Marks on a 37-yard touchdown pass. Marks made a great one-handed catch in the end zone and the score tied the game at 7-7. The Poets forced another Bulldogs turnover on a Terrance Watkins interception, but Lanier couldn't capitalize on it. With 6:00 left in the second quarter, Charles Gagliano kicked a 29-yard field goal to give Opelika a 10-7 lead.
Lanier had the ball in Opelika territory with less than two minutes to go in the second quarter, but the Bulldogs defense shut down the Poets offense. "We showed some fight, but had a few critical mistakes," said Poets head coach Marvin Cunningham. "We have a lot of players out right now but this is football and glad to be playing. That was a good football team we just played. We will go back to the drawing board and just get better."
In the second half, the Opelika special teams blocked a punt and Jamori Thomas picked it up and ran deep into the Poets territory. A few plays later, Cooper scored on a 3-yard touchdown run and Opelika led 17-7 with 5:39 left in the third quarter. With 4:38 left in the game, defensive back Jayden Stinson intercepted a Poets pass and returned it into a Bulldogs touchdown. WIth the score, Opelika led 24-7.
The Poets defense played well for most of the game, but just ran out of gas and the Bulldogs run game just ran out the clock most of the second half.
Up next, Opelika will host Eufaula while Sidney Lanier will play Lee-Montgomery at the Cramton Bowl next Thursday night.