Saraland claims their first state football title

By Josh Bean | For the AHSAA

 Auburn, AL – Saraland High School sophomore Ryan Williams can’t drive himself to school, but he drove the Spartans to the school’s first state championship.

The 15-year-old Williams scored four first-half touchdowns – a 61-yard run, 24-yard reception, 58-yard run and 1-yard run on the final play before halftime – and Saraland earned a 38-17 victory over Mountain Brook in Friday’s Class 6A championship game at Jordan-Hare Stadium. He was named the MVP.

“Ryan did an outstanding job both in the pass game and in the run game,” Saraland coach Jeff Kelly said. “That is something we have added to the portfolio, if you will, the last four or five weeks. The last four or five weeks, we have been able to do that, and it has really helped our run game. We felt like we needed to come in here early in the game and make some changes. I felt like, let’s lay it on the line, push our chips to the middle and all right go win the thing.”

Williams rolled up 230 of Saraland’s 301 yards in the first half. He finished with 15 carries for 188 yards, seven catches for 84 yards and two kick returns for another 20 yards.

“He’s a unique player,” Mountain Brook coach Chris Yeager said. “I have been at Mountain Brook now 24 years, and I think the three best players I have seen are probably Chad Jackson, George Pickens and then him. I have been coaching for 40 years, and he is no doubt one of the top three or four players I have seen. They have gotten quite a few players, but he is really, really special.”

Saraland (14-1) won its first state championship, having finished 6A runner-up in 2014 and 2018. Kelly also finished as 4A runner-up as the head coach at Jackson in 2009.

Williams started the scoring with a 61-yard run late in the first quarter, and he capped the next drive with a 24-yard touchdown catch from KJ Lacey with 11:21 to go in the second quarter.

On the next drive, Saraland faced fourth-and-1 and Kelly opted to go for it. Williams took a direct snap, ran left and raced 58 yards for his third touchdown with 7:08 to go before halftime.

Mountain Brook tried to keep pace by getting a 33-yard field goal from Jack Heaps, and Cole Gamble capping an eight-play, 65-yard drive with a 1-yard run with 2:51 to go before halftime to make it 21-10.

Saraland then moved to the Mountain Brook 11 in nine plays, but only five seconds remained on the clock before halftime. Kelly opted to go for it, instead of kicking a field goal, and the pass went to Williams, who was hit near the goal line and thrown out of bounds at the 1 by defensive back Tucker Crawford with one of the best defensive plays of the Super 7 to keep him out of the end zone.

The clock went to 0:00 and it appeared the half was over as Mountain Brook players hustled off the field, but Kelly challenged the call. Instant replay showed Williams fell out of bounds with two seconds remaining as Mountain Brook players filtered back onto their sideline.

Kelly said he never considered kicking a field goal. “I knew we were out of bounds in time,” he said.

After a Mountain Brook timeout, Williams scored on a 1-yard run on the final play before halftime. He lined up at receiver but motioned to quarterback and took a direct snap before running straight ahead.

“Once the play came in, I was like, ‘I must get in. I have to put the dagger in,” Williams said.

Saraland pushed its lead to 31-10 on Hunter Kirkland’s 30-yard field goal late in the third quarter. Mountain Brook answered with a five-play, 69-yard scoring drive capped by Clark Sanderson’s 26-yard touchdown catch from John Colvin with four seconds to go in the third quarter to make it 31-17.

Mountain Brook then forced a quick Saraland punt and appeared ready to cut into the lead again, but a Saraland’s Isaiah Bowie made a diving interception. Saraland running back Sante McWilliams scored seven plays later on a 5-yard run to essentially seal the victory.

Mountain Brook was trying to win its first state title since winning back-to-back 4A championships in 1975 and 1976.

“It’s been an incredible year,” Yeager said. “I know there are 62 (6A) teams that want to be where we are. It did not turn out like we wanted, but I got to spend 15 weeks with these incredible guys. It has been so fun.”

Sanderson caught 10 passes for 153 yards and scored a touchdown for Mountain Brook. Gamble had 20 carries for 75 yards and a 1-yard TD run. Colvin completed 16-of-27 passes for 228 yards. Vaughn Frost led the defense with 15 tackles, and Trenton Wright added 10.

McWilliams had 28 carries for 161 yards for Saraland, while Lacey completed 12-of-21 passes for 130 yards. Jamison Curtis led the defense with nine tackles and a sack.

During the on-field trophy presentation, Kelly lifted the Blue Map over his head, but it slipped out of his grasp but caught it before it crashed to the turf.

“I don’t think I ever would have lived that one down,” he said. “What a great night for Saraland.”