Ramsay High School captures state 6A football championship, first in school history

By Solomon Crenshaw Jr.

For The Birmingham Times

Coach Rueben Nelson Jr. cradles the championship trophy and football he received after his Ramsay Rams defeated Opelika 21-16 in Jordan-Hare Stadium  to win the Class 6A Alabama High School Athletic Association state football championship on Friday, Dec. 2, 2016. (Solomon Crenshaw Jr., special to The Times)
Coach Rueben Nelson Jr. cradles the championship trophy and football he received after his Ramsay Rams defeated Opelika 21-16 in Jordan-Hare Stadium to win the Class 6A Alabama High School Athletic Association state football championship on Friday, Dec. 2, 2016. (Solomon Crenshaw Jr., special to The Birmingham Times)

The Ramsay High School football team returned from Auburn’s Jordan-Hare Stadium Friday night with the blue trophy for winning the Alabama High School Athletic Association’s Class 6A state football championship.

The Rams’ defeated Opelika 21-16 and gave Ramsay its first state football championship ever and the first for a Birmingham City School since Banks High School won back to back titles in 1972 and 1973.

Ramsay discontinued its football program after the 1976 season and didn’t resume the sport for 36 years until hiring coach Rueben Nelson Jr. away from Midfield High in the spring of 2011.

Hours after the victory, Nelson, a minister who also has a law degree, said he still felt as though he were dreaming.

“God allowed me to put my hands in His hands and He would lead the way,” the coach said. “It’s not like I’m the head coach. He’s the head coach and I’m just the servant. He allows me to work with kids.”

Ramsay Principal Cassandra P. Fells said she plans to look for championship rings and ways to celebrate the entire Birmingham school district.

“Not only was this a win for Ramsay but it was a win for Birmingham City Schools. This is a win for every Birmingham City School student, every Birmingham City school, period,” she said.

State Sen. Rodger Smitherman, D-Birmingham, echoed that sentiment.

“They knew they were representing Birmingham,” he said. “They even said it. ‘We’re representing everybody back at home. We’ve got to play for our city, our school.’ They took pride in it.”

Interim Superintendent Larry Contri missed the game as he attended a family wedding. Coincidentally, he skipped the reception of another wedding a week earlier as he made it to Ramsay’s semifinal victory.

“Half of my crew was in Auburn screaming and hollering and carrying on and I would be screaming and hollering if I was with them,” he said. “I’m so delighted for the kids, for the school and for the school district. I’m sure they played a wonderful game.”

Senior quarterback Baniko Harley (2) carries his shoulder pads and his MVP trophy as he and his Ramsay teammates file into the Willie Scoggins Jr. Gymnasium after they defeated Opelika 21-16 in Jordan-Hare Stadium  to win the Class 6A Alabama High School Athletic Association state football championship on Friday, Dec. 2, 2016. (Solomon Crenshaw Jr., special to The Birmingham Times)
Senior quarterback Baniko Harley (2) carries his shoulder pads and his MVP trophy as he and his Ramsay teammates file into the Willie Scoggins Jr. Gymnasium after they defeated Opelika 21-16 in Jordan-Hare Stadium to win the Class 6A Alabama High School Athletic Association state football championship on Friday, Dec. 2, 2016. (Solomon Crenshaw Jr., special to The Birmingham Times)

The atmosphere was electric, according to Patrice Williams, whose daughter senior Naja is a cheerleader.

“The energy was absolutely amazing,” she said. “We sat in front of Wendy Horn. She helped write the grant to get the equipment.”

Horn is the wife of Spencer Horn, the Director of Academic and Strategic Initiatives in Birmingham City Schools. She admitted late Friday night that she never envisioned a season like Ramsay had this year.

“I just wanted a team that the band could play for,” said Horn, whose son Joshua is a senior wide receiver. “I’m so, so proud of the team and all they’ve accomplished in such a short period of time.”

The Rams (13-2) were led by left-handed senior quarterback Baniko Harley, who rushed for 158 yards on 21 carries and completed 8 of 18 passes for 132 yards and two scores.

Ramsay led 15-7 at the half and the Rams defense recovered an Opelika fumble on the opening series of the third quarter. Harley turned that turnover 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.

Playing without starting quarterback J.D. Worth due to a first-half shoulder injury, Opelika marched 89 yards on 10 plays to cut the lead to 21-14 with 11:42 to play. Talik Jackson got the TD on a 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 margin to 21-16. Opelika fumbled the ball on the free kick return at the Ramsay 30-yard line and Deshaun Oliver recovered for the Rams.