Opelika defensive back Jarell Stinson had already been on the verge of putting the Bulldogs over the top Friday night when the senior delivered a moment that sent the Opelika sideline into a frenzy.
With Opelika clinging to a one-point lead in overtime against Lee-Montgomery, Stinson recognized a pass coming his way and arrived just in time to break it up and seal the 21-20 victory.
The win was a wild one for Stinson and the Bulldogs, which maintained their lead in Region 2-6A by holding off the hard-charging Generals.
“I was playing deep quarters. I saw the dude coming in front of me, and I was like, ‘There’s nobody on him. I don’t think the quarterback can throw to the dude behind me,’” Stinson said. “I broke on the ball, went and made the play on him and punched it from behind.
“I’m just doing everything we can do to win. I try to make it not about myself but just try to better the team.”
Stinson’s heroics closed the book on a nerve-wracking extra session of action for both sides.
Opelika (5-3, 5-0) started overtime with the ball and quickly found itself facing a third-and-goal from the Generals’ 4-yard line. Sophomore quarterback Roman Gagliano took a shotgun snap and rolled to his right; meanwhile, tight end Tony Powell mimicked staying on the line to block before carefully peeling off to the left while every other Bulldog and General ran right.
Powell was all alone in the left side of the end zone when Gagliano lofted the ball into his hands for the go-ahead score.
“Oh man, it was a great play call,” said Roman Gagliano, who was 18-of-25 for 197 yards with two touchdowns and one interception in the victory. “You know, we’ve been working that all week, just trying to slip him out of the backfield. I kind of saw everybody rotate with me to the right, and he was butt naked so I just threw it up there”.
Following Charles Gagliano’s extra point, the Bulldogs led by seven.
Lee-Montgomery (4-2, 3-2) ran the ball well throughout the night, and that trend continued in overtime.
The Generals had no problem answering Powell’s touchdown play, and on the third play of their drive quarterback Jakell Williams pushed forward to sneak the ball in on a 1-yard carry..
There was only one problem for Lee: one of its players drew an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty after the score, which sent the ball back to the Opelika 18-yard line for the point after attempt.
Knowing a chance to win the game was one play away and understanding the challenge a kick of that distance presented to their kicker, the Generals decided to gamble.
If not for Stinson’s heads-up play, it might have worked, too.
“It means a lot as a coach when you get that opportunity because it’s stuff that you work on in the offseason,” Opelika head coach Erik Speakman said. “You talk about finishing, and then when you finally get that chance to see the kids rise to that occasion and get a stop on the two-point conversion like that to win the game was huge.”
The extra period was only necessary after both teams started clicking offensively in the fourth quarter.
Lee capped off an impressive five-play drive by scoring on Brian Thomas’ 1-yard run on the first play of the fourth quarter. Opelika put its offensive woes from the first half in the past on the next drive, as Roman Gagliano fired deep downfield and connected with Shawn Jones on a 49-yard strike on the possession’s first play.
Needing only one more yard to reach the end zone, Opelika running back Kaden Cooper came through to help tie the game 14-14 with 10:34 left in regulation.
The Generals and the Bulldogs had their chances to take back the momentum in the fourth, but neither could take advantage. Stinson had a 72-yard punt return touchdown called back due to a hold, while Lee drove the ball down the field late in the fourth when a fourth-down pass was intercepted by Opelika’s JaMarcus Williams.
Opelika opened Friday’s action with a well-timed defensive play that set the Bulldogs up for a quick score.
Opelika defensive back Keldon Thompson struck when he had the chance by picking off a pass on Lee’s fourth play from scrimmage and taking off to the Generals’ 18-yard line. Roman Gagliano took advantage of the great field position by firing his first pass to the end zone at Jayvontay Conner, who hauled in the throw for an 18-yard score.
Conner’s catch helped push Opelika ahead 7-0 with 10:02 to go in the opening quarter.
The early forced turnover by Opelika hinted at a long night for Lee, but the Generals didn’t let the mistake linger long.
After both teams traded possessions, Lee got going by relying on the hard running of Thomas, who piled up 42 yards over the course of three carries.
Thomas’ runs forced Opelika to key in on the run, which opened the Generals to strike through the air.
Williams sold a hand-off, held onto the ball, rolled to his left and fired downfield toward Dyuri Vandiver, who was all alone behind the Bulldogs’ defense.
Vandiver made the catch and made his way to the end zone to tie the game 7-7 with 1:25 to go in the opening quarter.
Opelika needed more than four quarters to get the job done Friday night, and no one in Bulldog Stadium was afforded a chance to exhale until the game’s final play.
Fortunately for the Bulldogs and their fans, Stinson was ready and willing to step up in yet another clutch situation.
“I feel like we needed a big team win like this, and I feel like it made us close as a team,” Stinson said. “It was big for us.”
Opelika 21, Lee-Montgomery 20 (OT)
LEE — 7 0 0 7 6—20
OPE — 7 0 0 7 7—21
OPE — Jayvontay Conner 18 pass from Roman Gagliano (kick good), 10:02
LEE — Dyuri Vandiver 35 pass from Jakel Williams (kick good), 1:25
LEE — Brian Thomas 1 run (kick good), 11:52
OPE — Kaden Cooper 1 run (kick good), 10:34
OPE — Tony Powell 4 pass from Roman Gagliano (kick good), 0:00
LEE — Jakel Williams 1 run (conversion failed), 0:00