Greater Tulsa Reporter
Courtesy Victory Christian Athletic Department
Victory Christian may have not won the state championship, but making it was a big plus for a program that was expected to be in a rebuilding year since it lost excellent players Keats Calhoon and Jon-Michael Terry to graduation. Instead, the Conquerors went to the state title game for the first time in 12 years.
“It’s special at any class at any school when you get to the championship game,” says Victory coach Ron Smith, who completed his second year at the post. “These kids, when we started the year, we really believed that we had enough talent that if things went our way, we could win a state championship.”
Victory (13-2) lost 56-33 to Oklahoma City Millwood on Dec. 9 in Stillwater. But at one point, in the third quarter, the Conquerors had a 27-26 lead over the long-time perennial powerhouse Falcons.
Millwood (15-0) exploded from there with a 30-point run that carried over into the fourth quarter.
After yielding three TDs to the Falcons, Victory was in position to trim the deficit to 11 points with a goal-to-go situation with around nine minutes left in the game. It scored, but the TD was nullified by a penalty. On the next play, Millwood intercepted a pass and took it 97 yards for a TD.
Instead of reducing the deficit, Victory was down 50-27.
“Basically, the game is over at that point, we’re not going to overcome a three-touchdown deficit to Millwood. That’s just part of the game, and they got after us pretty good after that,” Smith says.
“I was really proud of our kids,” Smith says. “We certainly didn’t give up. We felt like we had a good game plan, and we knew we had to play a perfect game to win.”
The Conquerors, who were ranked seventh, flourished in their passing attack. They did score the first touchdown and led 7-0 after the first quarter and led 13-12 in the second.
R.J. Wakley threw for four TDs and 360 yards on 31-of-51 attempts and rushed for another score.
Caleb Calhoon was the leading receiver with 11 catches for 153 yards with two TDs.
Tyler Hicks, a running back, also factored in as a receiver, finishing with 10 receptions for 119 yards and two TDs.
Working against Victory were eight turnovers – six on interceptions, and only 50 yards rushing.
Wakley, Calhoon and Hicks were key skill position players through most of the season. All three return next year as seniors. And that’s not all.
“Our kids believed they (would make the state final) and got in the game, and fell a little short,” Smith says. “But the good news is, we got a whole bunch of guys coming back. We feel very good about our future here at Victory Christian.”
The Conquerors’ toughest wins in 2016 came in a 14-10 victory over Holland Hall in Week 10 and a 27-21 win against longtime perennial 2A power Davis in the quarterfinals of the playoffs.
The performance of the defense was instrumental in those games.
“We get a lot of accolades for our offensive output this year,” Smith says. “But if the truth be known, our defense had a better year than our offense.
“On the way to the state finals, we beat the Davis Wolves, who many considered the best team in the state,” Smith says.
Two goal-line stands against the Wolves inside the 5-yard line made a huge difference for Victory.
“That’s a rare feat because the Davis Wolves had not been stopped inside the 5-yard line all year, until they played us,” Smith says. “So I was very happy with the way we played defense.”
Wakley, Calhoon and Hicks were also significant on the defense. But two other players who also made an impact will not return because they graduate next spring. They are nose guard Jonah Morrow and middle linebacker Brandon Billups, the latter who was a transfer from Union. They were key players in the win against the Wolves, as well as through the season.
Morrow had 119 tackles through the year. “It is a tremendous feat when a down lineman tallies 119 tackles in a season,” Smith says. “That is even unusual at the D-I or the NFL level.”
Billups had to sit out the first four games of the season due to a broken arm. But he managed to rack up tackles through the rest of the year. “He was the state’s leading tacklerwith 181 in just the 10 games that he played,” Smith says.