There was nothing magical about Opelika’s first-half performance against G.W. Carver on Friday night.
It was just brutally effective.
The showdown at Bulldog Stadium on Friday night between two of the state’s top 6A squads had plenty of pregame hype, but only one championship-caliber squad showed up for the game. Carver’s struggling offense was shut down in embarrassing fashion, and the highly efficient Bulldog offense piled up 314 total yards in the first half on the way to a 20-7 victory in a Region 3 showdown.
“They took advantage of how aggressive we were on defense,” Carver coach Billy Gresham said. “It just took us too long to make the adjustments. We’ve got to do a better job as coaches of making the adjustments early. Seeing some of the mistakes we made in the first three games, they took full advantage of it. We got it corrected in the second half, but you can’t start off slow and think you can come back in the second half and win the game.”
It could have been worse. Opelika drove the ball on every first-half possession but one, fumbling away one possession in the red zone and trading a touchdown for a field goal on another possession after the consecutive penalties took a touchdown off of the scoreboard.
“Carver is really good defensively, they’re really fast and they’re big,” Opelika quarterback Matthew Christian said. “In the first half, we controlled the line of scrimmage really well. We threw the ball pretty good, too, because the line blocked well. It came together pretty good.”
The Bulldogs averaged a remarkable 9.6 yards per first-down play in 12 snaps in the first half while Carver was held to minus two yards on seven first-down snaps, helping the Bulldogs to a dominating 20-0 halftime lead.
“We do a lot of self-scouting, and we knew our tendency was really heavy run game on first down,” Opelika coach Brian Blackmon said. “We tried to be more balanced, and it helped Matthew be more efficient. He was hitting balls he needed to hit, our receivers was making plays for us, and that spread things out and gave (tailback) Reggie Hall a chance to run the football.”
Christian was remarkable, completing 18 of 21 passes for 188 yards in the first half, including a 34-yard strike over the middle to Marquise Fulton late in the first quarter that left the Carver fans and players stunned.
“I thought at the end of the (2012) season he was one of the better quarterbacks in the state,” Gresham said. “Watching him on film, he doesn’t turn the ball over, he’s running the offense almost to perfection. With a guy like that as the trigger man, I look for those guys to get deep in the playoffs again.”
Christian finished with 203 yards passing, completing 23 of 28 passes, as the Bulldogs were content to milk the clock in the second half.
“He played incredible tonight,” Blackmon said. “I was really pleased with Matthew’s performance, especially in the first half.”
Carver, which didn’t pick up its initial first down until 9:06 remaining in the third quarter, had 11 total yards at halftime and 41 after three quarters. A Michael McKenney pass to Charles Standberry with 1:59 left avoided the shutout, but the Wolverines have a lot of growing up to do to earn a rematch with the Bulldogs in the 2013 playoffs.
Carver whipped Opelika in the regular season last year before losing to the Bulldogs in the semifinals of the playoffs.
“The roles are reversed,” Gresham said. “Opelika is a veteran football team right now, and we’re starting seven 10th-graders. We’ve got a lot of young guys still learning. I told them Opelika had the same deal last year, and they came back in the playoffs and got better and made a nice run. It was a good teaching moment.”
Both teams are on the road next week in non-region contests. Opelika (4-0) travels to Valley while Carver (3-1) travels to East Point, Ga., to play Tri-Cities High.