It wasn’t the same Opelika team that G.W. Carver faced earlier this season.
Bulldogs coach Brian Blackmon and his football team battled the Wolverines tough for two-plus quarters before painfully watching their slim deficit turn into a 20-point setback when the final horned sounded on Sept. 22 at Cramton Bowl.
That was approximately 68 days ago.
Friday night’s 35-21 upset victory over Carver in the Class 6A semifinals showcased a more mature and determined Blackmon-led team, one which capitalized on each break offered and refused to go quietly without a fight.
“Nothing was different on film about Carver. They were a great football team when we played them 10 weeks ago, and they were a great team tonight,” Blackmon said. “We weren’t ready to be good in Week 4 — we just weren’t there, but tonight we were there.”
The Bulldogs (10-4) made play after play to secure the school’s first ever trip to the AHSAA state championship game. Malcolm Buggs ran back a game-clinching interception 100 yards, Calvin Bryant dazzled with his legs and arm and Jakell Mitchell scored three touchdowns.
Carver (12-2) became the latest victim in Opelika’s revenge tour. The Dawgs rallied late to eliminate Auburn — which defeated them in the regular season also last week — and now gets the opportunity to seek redemption against top-ranked Hoover in next week’s championship game.
“You take a team that I think that played the toughest schedule in the state of Alabama, and we had to come back and play it almost all over again,” said Blackmon, whose squad suffered a 30-7 loss at Hoover in the regular-season finale. “That’s why we’re here.”
Opelika limped into the postseason with consecutive losses, but that didn’t take away from the team’s belief in playing for the state crown at Jordan-Hare Stadium , which just about 10 miles away from where they practice.
“Coach gave us a little sheet at the start of the playoffs,” said Bryant, who scored on a 51-yard burst for the game’s first touchdown. “He said (teams) that are 10-0 are going down and (teams) such as ourselves are going up. I am just so lucky to be on this team because we came together and believed this could happen.”
The breaks just didn’t fall in Carver’s favor in the rematch. Whether it was a poor call by an official, blown coverage in the secondary or being unable to overcome mental mistakes, the Wolverines seemed to be fighting an uphill battle the entire night.
“They took advantage of some things that we did offensively,” Carver head coach Billy Gresham said. “They were able to execute on plays and we were not. They came out ready to play and we didn’t — they just made more plays than we did.”