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Bixby Spartans Celebrate Another Championship

By MIKE MOGUIN
Sports Writer

STATE CHAMPIONS: Bixby High School football players Chandler Price (55), Brendon Evers (88) and Josh Neerman (54) stand at the front, with their teammates behind, celebrating before receiving the Gold Ball after winning the Class 6AII state championship game on Dec. 2.


Gregg Shipman Photography


All year long, the Bixby Spartans had been eyeing a three-peat of the Class 6AII state championship trophy.

Mission accomplished.

The Spartans pulled it off with a 39-31 victory over Lawton on Dec. 2 in Yukon.
But it didn’t come without adversity as the Spartans fell behind 13-0 early and were down 25-14 at halftime.

“We came out slow the first half,” says senior center Pierce Hibblen (5-7, 221). I don’t know why we did that, but we knew if we kept running the ball, running our offense, we would win. We were gashing them a couple of times in the first half on the inside, and we were like, ‘let’s just run the ball.’”

“You don’t go into a state championship game thinking you’ll be down going into halftime,” says senior left guard Josh Neerman (6-0, 241). “You really come out start thinking you will beat the other team, but that’s not how it happened, obviously. We go into halftime and coaches tell us that we need to play our game.”

The Spartans (10-3) did, flourishing with their running attack, led by junior Tucker Pawley (6-1, 191, who rushed for 244 yards and four touchdowns on 49 carries. Pawley finished the season with 2,096 yards and 30 TDs on 322 carries. He averaged 161.2 yards per game and ran for over 100 yards in 11 of his games.
“Going into the second half, we just played our game, our style of football and came out with the victory,” Neerman says.

Bixby would not yield another TD until it pulled ahead by 11 points. It outscored the Warriors 22-0 in the third quarter.

“It is great (to win state for a third straight year),” says defensive lineman Chandler Price, who tied for the team lead in sacks this year with nine. “Coming into my sophomore year, we hadn’t even won one and to know that we ended up with three is a really big deal to me.”

Tanner Griffin, who played his last gridiron game, passed for 111 yards and two TDs on 10-of-20 attempts. Griffin, who is headed for Oklahoma State to play baseball, threw for 3,049 yards and 39 TDs on 243-of-384 attempts during the year.

Nic Swanson accounted for most of the passing yards on the receiving end as he caught eight receptions for 99 yards and one TD. For the year, the senior receiver had 105 catches for 1,431 yards and 19 TDs. Swanson scored the go-ahead TD, a 34-yard reception from Griffin, that brought the score to 29-25 with 5:24 left in the third quarter.

Like any successful team, what helped those guys thrive was the blocking of a solid offensive line that included the likes of Neerman and Hibblen. Other starters were left tackle Bryce Bray (6-6, 291), right guard Isaiah Lakin (6-3, 226) and right tackle Josh Owens (6-4, 255), all juniors who return next year.

“It was absolutely phenomenal,” Neerman says. “I loved every minute of (blocking for those guys) because even when we miss a block, Tanner evades it, throws it to Swanson usually, and Swanson makes a big play. Tanner can also run if he needed to, that makes it easier for us. He didn’t just have to stay in the pocket. And Tucker sees every hole you can imagine, and he just runs wherever he knows would be best.”

By doing just the blocking, offensive linemen are known to be the unsung heroes of football and the guys are just fine with that.

“Just like (the skill-position players) have their job to do, we have ours,” Neerman says. “We were blessed to have five dudes who didn’t need recognition. So just doing our job was good enough for us.”

“I love playing offensive line, because I don’t like a lot of attention on me personally,” Hibblen says. “And I feel there is a comradery between the starting-five that there is really not anywhere else you can get on the field.”

With Bixby getting a three-peat, could it be becoming a dynasty in 6AII like Jenks and Union are in 6AI?

These guys think so.

“That’s what we’re trying to do because they are great programs over there, and we want to keep winning and be on top in our division,” Hibblen says. “We’re leaving a legacy for the people that are following behind us.”

“I feel like we could easily become a dynasty,” Price says. “With the younger kids coming up, I feel like they could contribute and add some more championships.”

“I don’t see us slowing down one bit,” Neerman says. “We’re getting all the young guys, all the sixth-graders are starting to run our offense. By the time they get into the eighth grade, they know what they’re supposed to be doing and where their responsibilities are.”

Updated 12-29-2016

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