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Caleb Turrentine / The Herald Tyquan Rawls (6) runs a read option with Malik Davis during the first half of Friday's game at Calera.

Since moving into the same region in 2016, Wetumpka and Opelika have sparked one of the best rivalries across the state. The series may not have a historical factor to it but in the last three seasons, this game has been decided by a total of four points while featuring two state runners-up, one state semifinalist and three region champions.

Both teams have high expectations for this season and they will meet Friday night in Opelika. This may be the closest fans can get to a region championship game in September and while that’s not official, the players understand the importance of winning this game.

“I think our guys understand the significance of it,” Wetumpka coach Tim Perry said. “They know the type of program Opelika is and they know, especially the upperclassmen, how close this game has been and how it’s come down to the final play. When you respect someone like that, your energy is going to be higher and you’re going to be excited for the challenge.”

Wetumpka (2-1, 1-0 Class 6A Region 3) is looking to get on the front foot in the search for its third straight region title. The Indians have never defeated Opelika in back-to-back seasons and the Bulldogs are looking for some revenge after last year’s loss kept them from getting the top spot in the region.

After last week’s 23-0 win over Selma, Opelika improved to 3-0 (1-0) but it was the two wins to start the year that were more impressive. The Bulldogs knocked off Callaway (Ga.) and Auburn, two teams they lost to last season, winning by a total of just 11 points.

“They’re staying in the game for four quarters and putting themselves in position to make plays at the end,” Perry said. “That’s what they have done to get off to a better start. They know how to make the plays when they need to and that jumps out on film.”

Opelika is no longer looking to Matthew Blackmon and Brantan Barnett in the backfield but there are plenty of players for Wetumpka to worry about on offense. Brody Davis has taken over duties as quarterback and has stepped up big when the Bulldogs needed him, including leadingthree second-half touchdown drives in the comeback win over Auburn.

“They just seem like the same Opelika team,” Perry said. “The quarterback manages the offense and plays within the system to get the ball to the right people. Their offensive line is always physical and the running backs always run well.”

The Bulldogs have not proven to be an offensive powerhouse like they were at times last season but Perry said the offense is plenty capable when it needs to be. Wetumpka is coming off its best defensive week and Perry hopes it can have a good week of practice and carry over some of that success against Opelika.

“Everybody has tendencies,” Perry said. “The challenge isn’t picking up on those tendencies, it’s being able to stop it. We just have to get better at what we’re doing defensively and our guys understand that. We are improving every week and getting experience so that will help us this week.”

These two teams have played in contrasting games with Wetumpka seeing high-scoring affairs early and Opelika battling in matchups with points at a premium. In three games, Wetumpka has scored 37 points per game while the Bulldogs have allowed only 20 points the whole season.

It is likely to see this game fall somewhere in between a shootout and a defensive struggle but Perry said his offense is going to have to earn every yard against a strong Opelika defense. Jaylen Stinson leads an experienced secondary for the Bulldogs, freeing up some of the front seven to make plays in the backfield.

“They may be the fastest defense we face,” Perry said. “They’re well coached and the players understand the schemes very well. They are able to play a lot of man coverage which allows them to bring a lot of pressure at times and that puts a lot of pressure on the offense to recognize it. And they don’t miss a lot of tackles.”

PREDICTION: Wetumpka 31, Opelika 28

Caleb Turrentine is a sports writer for Tallapoosa Publishers Inc.