By Scott Nickerson, EAN Sports Writer
Photos by Scott Nickerson and Brian Tannehill
For the third year in a row, the Opelika Bulldogs have defeated the Stanhope Elmore Mustangs on the football field. Unlike the previous two years, which saw Opelika win 59-21 in 2018, and 38-14 in 2019, this year’s contest was close in the final quarter and could have gone either way in the final six minutes, but the Mustangs were just unable to make the big play when they needed it.
With less than five minutes to go in the game, trailing 20-17, Mustangs 9th grade kicker Jacob Bryant lined up for a 40-yard field goal attempt to tie the game. After easily drilling a 35-yard field goal earlier in the 3rd quarter, the game-tying attempt barely missed.
Still, the Stanhope Elmore defense had an opportunity to get the ball back for the offense. Facing a 3rd and 9 with three minutes left in the game, Opelika picked up 14-yards on a draw play. After two plays yielded eight yards, the Bulldogs faced a 3rd and 2 with under two minutes to go, and picked up three yards. Opelika ran out the final minute on the clock and came away with a three-point victory, 20-17.
Despite the loss, the Mustangs offense and defense both showed that they could go toe to toe with one of the best teams in the state of Alabama in Class 6A. Having advanced all the way to the Class 6A semi-finals in 2019, Opelika started this season ranked #6 in Class 6A. But it was Stanhope Elmore High that started the game strong. Quarterback Tre Killingsworth connected with receiver Jackson Thomas for a 42-yard reception, and sophomore running back Antonio Trone followed it up with a touchdown rush from seven yards out to put the Mustangs on the board first at 7-0 midway through the opening quarter.
Opelika responded quickly, with running back Eric Watts busting through the line for a 58-yard touchdown on the second offensive play. The extra point tied the game at 7.
The Mustangs were able to move the ball, but ultimately had to punt. The punt rolled all the way to the Opelika 3-yard line. With the Bulldogs back up, they were able to convert two crucial 3rd downs, the second coming with a 12-yard completion on 3rd and 8. After picking up the momentum, the Bulldogs were able to get another touchdown on the board, but the extra point was missed. Opelika took a 13-7 lead into halftime.
The Mustangs came out strong in the 3rd quarter. The Stanhope Elmore defense held Opelika to a three and out on their first possession of the 2nd half. A few plays later Killingsworth found receiver DJ McGhee for a 52-yard touchdown pass. Bryant drilled the extra point, putting the Mustangs ahead by one point, 14-13.
Two plays later, the Mustangs defense recovered an Opelika fumble, setting Stanhope Elmore up 16-yards away from the end zone. A holding penalty pushed the Mustangs back far enough that they were unable to pick up a first down. However, the freshman kicker nailed a 35-yard field goal that gave the Mustangs a 17-13 lead with just under four minutes remaining in the quarter.
As they did earlier in the game, the Bulldogs responded immediately. Facing a 4th and 2 from the Stanhope Elmore 38-yard line, Opelika running back Eric Watts once again broke through the line and rushed the rest of the way for the touchdown. The Bulldogs took the 20-17 lead into the final quarter.
With the Bulldogs threatening to push to lead to 10 early in the 4th quarter, Mustangs defensive back Pat Thomas came away with an interception at the 17-yard line. Both teams went three and out on their next possessions, but when the Mustangs got the ball back, they moved the ball downfield. The drive ended with the missed 40-yard field goal attempt.
In his first game as starting quarterback, Tre Killingsworth went 9 for 14 for 139 yards and 1 touchdown. Sophomore running back Antonio Trone rushed for 34 yards and 1 touchdown. Receivers Teddy Harris had 3 receptions for 21 yards, Jackson Thomas had 1 reception for 42 yards, and DJ McGhee had 1 reception for 52 yards that resulted in a touchdown.
After the tough home opener with the #6 ranked Opelika Bulldogs from Class 6A, next week won’t get any easier when the Mustangs face the Prattville Lions, ranked #10 in Class 7A, in their second game of the season. The Lions won their first game of the season against Wetumpka in a game played at Cramton Bowl in Montgomery, by a score of 40-10. The Mustangs have further motivation, seeking revenge for a 42-0 loss against the Lions last season. SEE MORE PHOTOS BELOW.