Iron Bowl Appetizer

This game could only be improved if it was played on the Eve of the Iron Bowl. They are both balanced squads with high scoring offensive capabilities and dominating defenses. Did we mention Opelika's Coach Spence McCracken played at Auburn University for legendary Coach Shug Jordan and Tuscaloosa County's Coach Robert Higginbotham was a letterman for Coach Paul (Bear) Bryant?

Both coaches are in the Alabama High School Football Hall of Fame and between them have a record of 514-192-4. That's a lot of sideline miles.

"He"s a great man," Coach McCracken said of Higginbotham. "I have so much respect for him. He is a great sportsman."

Opelika comes into the game as the Region 3 champion with an overall record of 8-1 and an undefeated division record. The only loss Coach McCracken's team has on the books is a 10-7 loss to the top ranked 6A team and the reigning State Champs Prattville. The Bulldogs will hope to get a rematch of that game in the playoffs.

Tuscaloosa County has had the kind of year a coach dreams about and Coach Robert Higginbotham has a team full of juniors to look forward to the same kind of performance next season. The Wildcats are 9-0 in 2007. rates the 'Dawgs at 133.7 and County High at 131.4. Their opposition is ranked in the same order 107.4 versus 106.2. Opelika produces an average winning margin of 26.3 points while Tuscaloosa County sits with a 25.2 average.

Opelika, on the strength of homefield advantage, is ranked a two-point favorite.

If all goes according to those numbers this game will go back and forth as a battle of some of the best football in the state this week or any other week.

Last year's game resulted in a 29-28 overtime win for Coach McCracken's bunch in Northport, but the Wildcats felt they had their opportunities to win the game and things didn't bounce their way.

Opelika senior quarterback Brooks Robinson has really matured into the leader of this Dawg offense.

"He is a warrior, a fierce competitor we wouldn't be where we are without Brooks," Coach McCracken tells

The ?awgs spread the ball around pretty evenly in the running game. Their backs are senior Jeffrey Dorsey, junior Dae Spence and senior Joran Spence. Robinson has rushed for 585 yards.

No slight to Opelika's offense, but their defense is something to see. They are devastating to opponents. They allowed Auburn to run the ball a little more last week than they normally give up, but whenever it came time to cinch up their belts and play some hardnosed defense they rose to the occasion.

The Bulldogs only allow 68 yards rushing per game, 85 yards passing and seven first downs. They allow 5.3 points per game.

Junior linebacker Josh Rowe leads the team with 71 tackles and five sacks.

Defensive backs K.R. Snipes, Zach Blatt, Mike Love and Charles Johnson will dare you to throw the ball. They have 17 pass breakups and eight interceptions. Overall, Opelika has a +14 turnover margin.

Tuscaloosa County has the talented junior quarterback Brett Booth. Booth is a solid quarterback in all aspects of the game. He ran the offense as a sophomore for the 'Cats and is now a journeyman. He is a challenge to Opelika's defense.

Junior Jerome Brown is a talented running back and made the elite list of's Stars of Alabama for his performance last week against Pelham.

Defensive end Thomas Brown might not impress you with his 6-0, 190-pound size on paper, but he plays a ton. "He just has one big play after another," Higginbotham says about his senior.

Coach McCracken talked of what he hoped to get out of this game.

"We are looking to get better," he said. "Booth is passing for 350 yards a game. They are undefeated. We are going to have to play well. We are going in with a short week, but we're looking good. I think our team is up for it."

"We have got to limit their plays. We gave up too many plays last year."

On paper, this game doesn't mean a lot in the grand scheme of things with both teams firmly entrenched in their playoff spots. Reality tells a different story. You better believe these two veteran coaches and their talented teams want this win. They want to enter the playoffs next week on a high note with a win over a tough opponent. The confidence that will ignite in the winner of this game is incalculable.

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