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Lizi Arbogast / The Outlook Benjamin Russell's Jamarcus Smith, left, takes down Opelika's Kani Thornton Kellum.

After a less than impressive first half, Benjamin Russell came out swinging Friday night in a Class 6A Region 3 game.

On the first play from scrimmage, Hezekiah Hunter took one to the house for a 66-yard touchdown. The Wildcat defense then forced Opelika into a three and out and after BRHS’ offense stalled, its defense answered the call again. Denzel Greene jumped up, grabbed an interception off Opelika’s Brody Davis and ran it back 37 yards for another score.

That pulled the Wildcats within two touchdowns and seemed to give the team and the fans new life.

That life quickly died though.

In less than two minutes, Opelika returned the favor with two touchdowns of its own and the Bulldogs went on to win 45-17.

“I thought we were giving them trouble defensively and we had sparks here and there moving the ball in between the tackles,” Benjamin Russell coach Kevin Smith said. “We’d get something going but then it was the same old story; we’d go backwards. We’d get a penalty or a negative play.”

Benjamin Russell started out with Hunter and Brett Pitts taking turns taking snaps in what BRHS is called its double wildcat formation. That seemed to work fairly well, as the Wildcats (3-4, 0-3) had their best drive of the game after Hunter’s score to open the third quarter.

Moving the ball consistently was the key to the Wildcats getting a nine-play drive that lasted nearly half the third quarter.

“We stayed on (our) end of the field down here, and we couldn’t get any kind of field position,” Smith said. “We had that spark when we went to the double wildcat when we had (two fullbacks) in there but that’s only going to work for so long. Then there’s no threat of anything else except between the tackles. If that’s not working, you’re three and out and your defense is right back out there.”

After their long drive stalled on a fourth-down attempt, the Wildcats got the big interception return from Greene which pulled them within 31-17.

But Opelika immediately responded. Despite the Bulldogs fumbling the ensuing kickoff initially, Jaylen Stinson scooped it up and took it 80 yards to the house.

On Benjamin Russell’s next drive, it had a turnover of its own as EJ Thomas forced and recovered a fumble, setting up Opelika on the Wildcat 8. Nate Evans immediately capitalized with a score on the first Bulldog play of the drive.

It wasn’t the first time during the game Opelika took the wind out of BRHS’ sails. The Bulldogs scored two touchdowns early, one of which Smith called “a gift.” But the Wildcats finally got on the board midway through the second quarter with a 33-yard field goal from Campbell Woods. But three plays later, Opelika was in the end zone again with a 31-yard rushing touchdown by JD Tolbert.

The good news for BRHS is its rushing attack continued to look good except for the large handful of negative plays caused by the Bulldogs. Hunter finished with 170 rushing yards and Demarcus McNeal saw a lot of time in the final two quarters. He racked up 80 yards for the game, most of which came in the fourth quarter.

“Well, he needs the reps,” Smith said. “Hezekiah is a little banged up. In the early third, he got rolled up a little bit so his ankle was tweaked. Plus, Demarcus gives a whole different flavor to it.”

But Opelika managed nearly 300 yards of consistent offense and despite all the Wildcats’ efforts, they couldn’t match that.

“Another thing is we worked on the power game pretty much this week,” Smith said. “Carter (Smith) has been out two weeks (at quarterback) and coming back in, he wasn’t as fresh. We can’t make excuses, but the big thing is we couldn’t give up big plays and we did and we got ourselves on the ropes. We’re just not a team built to get into a Big 12 type shootout.”

Lizi Arbogast is the sports editor at Tallapoosa Publishers, Inc.