If Rocky River’s respect-garnering win over defending Class 4-AA state champion Butler on Oct. 18 had to be defined by two plays, it would be easy to pick which ones best represented the Ravens’ monumental 28-21 win.
On the opening play of the game, quarterback Christian Allen-Brown flung a deep bomb down the sideline to Jaire Alexander, setting up the Ravens’ first score and taking some of the air out of Butler’s sails. The Ravens’ last meaningful play of the game, a 53-yard touchdown scamper by quarterback Naiil Ramadan, served as the final knockout blow of a program-changing victory.
In the middle was a series of well-orchestrated punches that put chinks in Butler’s armor like a fighter landing body blows. The end result was the Ravens’ best win – at least to this point in their four-year existence – and it was executed by Allen-Brown and Ramadan, two players who began the season vying for time at the same position who’ve since become each other’s biggest supporter.
“The two-quarterback system is working well for us,” Ravens coach Jason Fowler said. “Christian has come out of the gate hard and Naiil’s been able to come out and make some big plays for us and what’s cool is they both support each other so well.”
The relationship between two quarterbacks competing for the same job began like any competition would, as each tried to get the upper hand and win the starting position. Entering preseason workouts, each quarterback brought with them their own unique experiences and expectations on how the position battle would play out.
Allen-Brown has patiently bided his time waiting for his chance to step onto the field as the Ravens’ quarterback since his freshman season. The senior has played receiver in his time at Rocky River, but this was going to be his chance to be the starting quarterback for the first time.
Ramadan came from West Charlotte High, where he was the Lions’ starting quarterback last season. He was intent on winning the same job with the Ravens from the moment he stepped on campus.
“They were in competition throughout the whole spring and the preseason,” Fowler said. “We told them we were going to make a decision after the last preseason game, but at that time we felt that Naiil had won the job, so he started against Richmond County and had a really good game for us.
“If you’re a player and it means something to you, you’re going to be disappointed, but they’ve handled it well. I knew (Allen-Brown) was upset at first and we expected that, but he did what he needed for the team.”
Allen-Brown was, understandably, upset by the news, but he started at receiver in the first game and kept plugging away at quarterback.
“It hurt pretty bad,” Allen-Brown said. “But I knew that I had to put it aside for the team and I had to step up to the level I was supposed to be at as a quarterback.”
Ramadan started the next game against South Mecklenburg, and even though he completed just six of 12 passes for 22 yards and two interceptions in the 22-6 win, Fowler stuck with him the whole game.
After leading the Ravens to a 21-20 squeaker the next week against Sun Valley, Ramadan again started slowly against Hunter Huss. Fowler had seen enough and pulled Ramadan after the first quarter.
“Naiil was disappointed,” Fowler said. “But like we’ve been telling them, our job is to do what’s best for the team. As he kept practicing, he started to get better and get more comfortable in the offense and we could see the improvement to where we felt we needed to get him back out there.”
Ramadan admitted that, at first, he was upset by the demotion. But like Allen-Brown, it made Ramadan work that much harder to get back on the field.
“It’s more team-oriented here,” Ramadan said of his Ravens’ teammates. “That’s the first thing that I noticed here and I knew when I got my time I would step up and be ready, so I tried to keep after it and keep working hard.”
Ever since the Hunter Huss game, Fowler has used both quarterbacks in situations during each game, but unlike other teams who employ dual signal callers, the Ravens don’t change personnel or have different play packages for each player.
“There’s been no animosity, they’ve put the team first, they stay ready, they make big throws, big runs and have played well,” Fowler said.
“It’s a good problem to have. There’s no difference when they come in, the offense is the offense. Both of them have their strengths in the offense and it’s nice having the option to go to either.”
And both quarterbacks have thrived in their time-sharing scheme.
Ramadan has completed 49 of 76 passes for 553 yards and has thrown three touchdowns and three interceptions. Allen-Brown is 35 of 56 for 505 yards with four touchdowns with just three interceptions on the season.
While both are more-than-capable passers, their running ability gives the Ravens’ offense an added dimension. Allen-Brown has 36 carries for 118 yards and Ramadan has added 60 carries for 207 yards with seven touchdowns, none of which were bigger than the 53-yard run to put rival Butler away and put the Ravens on the proverbial map.
On that winning run against Butler, Ramadan said he was simply executing the play that was drawn up. If it had been Allen-Brown who scored, he would’ve had the same excitement, a point Allen-Brown backed up.
“It doesn’t matter to us, whoever is out there on the field is expected to get the job done for the team,” Allen-Brown said. “I’ve grown a whole lot, there are so many things that Naiil has taught me about myself and about being a quarterback.
“We are each other’s biggest supporter and, like I said, it doesn’t matter to us, we have to do what’s best to get the win.”
With their dual-threat quarterbacks sharing time and pushing each other to bring out their best, the Ravens have won eight consecutive games and are tied for the lead in the Southwestern 4A conference entering their bye this week.
But to Allen-Brown and the other 21 Raven seniors on the roster, this is the ending they expected to have when many of them began as freshmen on a team that went 0-10 and was outscored 402-47.
“Me and (senior defensive back) Lamar (Hood) were talking on the sideline before the game about how we’d said that our freshman year we were going to come out and beat Butler,” Allen-Brown said. “That was our mindset and our whole roster knew we were going to beat them. It just felt right, like this is how it was supposed to be.
“This whole season feels right. This is how I pictured it my freshman year. I had pictured us winning ball games like we’re supposed to as a team. It’s more of a family now and it’s all of us, together. It used to be that Rocky River was (a collection of) some (former) Independence kids and some (former) Butler kids, but it’s not like that any more, we’re all Rocky River kids now. It’s like we’re all a family.”