Ramsay 21, Opelika 16
AUBURN – Ramsay High School head football coach Rueben Nelson wasn’t even born the last time a Birmingham city school won an AHSAA state football championship.
In fact, he was born the very year that football was discontinued at Ramsay, a school that had its first team in 1930, had its first unbeaten team in 1934, its last unbeaten team in 1941 and let the sport remain dormant for 36 years.
In 2012, Nelson was asked to resurrect the sport at the school cradled in the shadow of the Vulcan statue located atop Red Mountain. Friday night at Jordan-Hare Stadium, Nelson coached the Rams to the Super 7 Class 6A state football championship.
Talk about irony.
The Rams (13-2), with left-handed senior quarterback Baniko Harley leading the team, took control of the 2016 Super 7 championship game finale in the first half and then held on at the end to beat Opelika 21-16. Harley rushed for 158 yards on 21 carries and was 8-of-18 passing for 132 yards and two scores.
Opelika (13-2), coached by Brian Blackmon, struck first when Weldrin Ford scored on a 1-yard run at 7:46 of the first quarter to cap a nine-play, 45-yard Bulldogs drive to take a 7-0 lead.
On the next series, Harley ignited the Rams with a dazzling cross-the-field 69-yard run that set up the Rams’ first score – his 9-yard pass to Genori Parrish. The extra point was blocked and Ramsay trailed 7-6 at 5:53 of the quarter. Harley and Parrish hooked up in the second quarter at 5:22 with the 8-yard connection for the TD closing out a 12-play, 85-yard march.
Ramsay got one more chance before the half and Joshua Horn kicked a 25-yard field goal to give Rams a 15-7 lead. The Rams defense recovered an Opelika fumble on the opening series of the third quarter and Harley turned it into six points with a 6-yard touchdown pass to Kordell Jackson just 2½ minutes into the second half to take a 21-7 lead.
Opelika, playing without starting quarterback J.D. Worth due to a first-half shoulder injury, marched 89 yards on 10 plays with sophomore quarterback Cade Blackmon at the throttles to cut the lead to 21-14 with 11:42 to play. Talik Jackson got the TD on a dazzling 40-yard run.
The Bulldogs got another break with 5:13 left when the ball was snapped over the Ramsay punter’s head out of the end zone for a safety to cut the lead to 21-16. That good fortune turned around quickly, however, when Opelika fumbled the ball on the free kick return at the Ramsay 30-yard line and Deshaun Oliver recovered for the Rams.
Oliver also converted a fourth-and-27 fake punt at the Rams’ 14-yard line earlier in the quarter when he told Harley, the punter, to pass him the ball instead of kicking. Harley did it and Oliver gained 29 yards to the 43 for a first down.
The last five minutes turned out to be nail-biting as both teams battled to the end. Opelika, facing a fourth-and-1 at its own 40-yard line with just over a minute to play, came up short when Joshua Adams stopped Ford shy of the first-down mark. The Rams then ran out the clock.
Ramsay finished with 403 total yards on 76 plays and Opelika had 254 on 57 plays. Harley accounted for 290 yards with his passing and running. Teammate Thomas Hirabowski added 70 yards rushing on nine carries. Parrish finished with three catches for 30 yards.
Ford led Opelika with 97 yards rushing on 23 carries. Blackmon was 5-of-10 passing in the second half for 40 yards and Caleb Florence had four receptions for 34 yards. Punter Austen Blackmon had three kicks for a 40.7-yard average.
Zachery Yancey had 14 tackles and four assists to lead Opelika’s defense. Jackson also had seven tackles and four assists.
Kordell Jackson led Ramsay with six stops.
It was the first state football crown in Ramsay history and just the third in Birmingham City Schools history since the playoffs began in 1966. Banks won back-to-back titles in 1972 and 1973. Opelika has now finished runner-up twice (2012 and 2016).