BIRMINGHAM — For the first three quarters on Friday night, Leeds dismantled Ramsay’s offense just as it did to its last 11 opponents.
Then in the fourth, Ramsay opened the floodgates, scoring 20 unanswered points to retake the lead. Suddenly, Leeds needed to drive 54 yards with only 2:30 to play.
Leeds finished 5 yards short of a spot in the Class 5A semifinals, but that didn’t diminish the pride Leeds coach Jerry Hood felt.
“Man, what a champions' heart to go down there and drive it,” Hood said. “Give yourself a chance to score, maybe get 2."
Ramsay secured a 27-19 win over Leeds (11-1) on Legion Field in a game that truly came down to the final minute.
Leeds quarterback Jarod Latta might have delivered his best work of the season during his final drive when he completed five of his first seven passes for 49 yards. His biggest completions, a 13-yard throw to sophomore Jaelyn Felder and a 16-yard throw to Conner Nelson, came on third-and-8 and third-and-2, respectively.
"Last three years, I think now he is 31-6,” Hood said of Latta. “That's a winner.”
Staring down a shortened field at the Ramsay 5-yard line seemed to fluster Leeds. Three incompletions and a game-winning sack later sent the Greenwave offense back to the sidelines for the final time.
"This is a great place to be,” Hood said after the game. “It hurts today, but we will be fine."
What to know
— The game turned on three Leeds’ miscues in the fourth quarter.
1. On the second play of the quarter, Ramsay senior Jalen Jones returned a punt at least 65 or 70 yards to set the Rams up at the Leeds’ 17-yard line. Ramsay running back Ashton Ashford punched it in three plays later.
2. On the subsequent drive, Latta hit a screen pass for a gain of 8 yards. It initially looked like a play that might even result in a score, but then the ball tumbled out of the receiver’s hands without him being touched. Again, a Ramsay player capitalized, returning the fumble over 20 yards to set the Rams up at the Leeds’ 18-yard line. Ashford scored four plays later.
3. The final straw came when a Ramsay defensive back returned an interception 37 yards to give the Rams an 8-point lead. Hood said the coaches deserved the blame for that one because he said, “we were expecting a different coverage. We told him 'shoot it there because it is going to be there' and it wasn't.”
— Despite giving up a season-high 27 points, the Leeds defense still did a tremendous job. Ramsay finished the game with 6 of 9 passing for 91 yards, a touchdown and an interception. Fifty-six of those yards and the only passing touchdown came on one screen pass in the first quarter. On the ground, Ashford finished with 154 carries on 24 carries. Ramsay’s other ball carriers finished with seven attempts for a loss of 15 yards.
— Leeds kicker Jackson Arthur delivered a heck of an encore performance for his high school finale. He converted one of two extra points and delivered on field goal attempts from 31 and 32-yards out. He might have converted an additional kick from 32 yards out, but it was blocked. He also kicked and recovered an onside kick, but that wasn’t his best moment.
That came in the second quarter when the senior chased down a punt after it flew high over his head. With Ramsay defenders chasing him down, Arthur managed to corral the ball and get off a 21-yard punt. That in itself would have been impressive, but then he drew a foul, which gave the Greenwave new life. Instead of punting the ball back to Ramsay, Leeds was able to run out the final six minutes in the first half and secure a 31-yard field goal that put Leeds up 16-7 at the break.
— Hood on losing momentum: "We had the screen called that was going to give us a big first down. Felt momentum shift when we fumbled that screen,
— Hood on the seniors: "They went through the heavy lifting, so the more great things we have in our program now. Those guys and the ones before them are the foundation of that."
— Hood on the defense: "That's a team that averages 42 points per game, and our defense is elite, they've been elite all year. This is the most that has been scored on us and frankly, we had to give them the opportunity to get to that. I'm proud as heck of our defense."
— Ramsay coach Ronnie Jackson on Jones' big return: "He is special. We didn't have a return (called). We had a safe punt. We wanted to make sure they punted the ball. We had no one blocking for him and that is what he does. He makes plays."
— Jackson on the team’s fourth-quarter comeback: "It shows the growth of our team. We were really young last year. We've been through the fire, we've been tested. … all those games that we played earlier we knew we could play with the big guys. They finally got the chance to show it."
— This concludes Leeds’ season. Ramsay will face the winner of Pleasant Grove-Arab in the Class 5A semifinals on Friday.