By RON HOLT
CELEBRATION TIME: The Bixby Spartans celebrate their 34-13 state championship victory over Stillwater in the early morning of Dec. 1.
Photo by DAVID STACY
The 2018 Bixby Spartan football team “Finished The Chase.”
Tied 13-all at halftime, Bixby’s focused defense dominated the second half and the Spartan offense scored 21 second half points in handing previously unbeaten Stillwater a 34-13 setback in the Class 6A-II State Championship game on a stormy Friday night/Saturday morning at Owasso Stadium. Nov.30 and into Dec. 1.
Bixby, which ended the season at 12-1, captured its fourth gold ball in the past five seasons. Stillwater closed out its historic season at 12-1.
The game was marred by a 25-minute weather delay at the start and a two-hour, 15-minute delay with 7:05 remaining in the game. It ended early Saturday morning. Bixby wasn’t affected by the lengthy delay as the Spartans returned to the field in dominating fashion to secure the victory.
“Our kids came back out with their ears pinned back after the lengthy break,” Bixby’s head coach Loren Montgomery said. “In a two-hour weather delay, you just try to relax. Right before we came out we watched our highlight video again.
“In the second half we were able to not get behind the chains. It seemed like in the first half we were behind the chains a lot. Their defense causes confusion,” said Montgomery. “Our defense is tough, the second half they played lights out.
“This is a big one for our kids, our coaches and our community. I’m really proud of everyone.”
Stillwater used a one-yard touchdown run by talented sophomore tailback Qwontrel Walker to cap off an impressive drive for a 6-0 lead – after the extra point failed – with 4:21 left in the opening stanza.
Bixby’s offense answered the challenge with a drive that ended on junior Braden Roller’s 12-yard touchdown burst to the corner of the end zone. Reis Vernon’s point-after kick hit the right upright and bounced away, trying the game at 6-6.
Senior Cade Cavender, who finished his impressive career in brilliant fashion, entered the game in the wildcat formation, which is normally a short-yardage offense, to start the second quarter. Cavender, however, broke through the line, burst outside and out-ran the Pioneers for a 60-yard touchdown on the first play of the second quarter. Vernon’s point-after gave a 13-6 lead at the 11:40 mark.
“That’s usually our package to get short-yardage but it turned into big gains tonight,” said Cavender, who rushed for a career-high 222 yards on 17 carries and three touchdowns. “The line did a great job, they did all the work … I had the easy part.
“We didn’t want those delays to get in our heads, so we tried to stay focused during the lengthy delay. We figured out at the end of the first quarter what they were going to do, and we shut them down,” he added. “We controlled the game in the second half.
“This is awesome, especially getting to play in three in a row … that’s special.”
Stillwater relied on a blocked punt by junior Clay Hatfield to set up a game-tying six-yard TD run by Walker, making it a 13-all game with 2:56 left until halftime.
Bixby’s defense was dominating in the second half, limiting Stillwater’s high-scoring offense to four first downs while the offense produced on the ground.
“That was something you can’t even put into words, shutting them out in the second half,” said active junior linebacker Brody Sartin. “That’s what we worked for during the summer. I’ll never forget that moment. We talked at halftime about fixing some things and what we did we did well and came away with what we wanted tonight.”
Senior linebacker Ryan Kerr added, “The second drive they had they did pretty well, and the running back broke a few tackles. But, after that we knew what they were doing. The second half was lights out for our defense.”
Bixby took the lead for good with 8:50 showing in the third quarter when Cavender ran in from four yards out and Vernon kicked the conversion for a 20-13 lead. A one-yard run by Cavender with 8:39 left in the game gave the Spartans a 27-13 lead and some breathing room. That’s when the lengthy weather delay began.
Key plays by seniors ended the game on a positive note after returning to the field following the delay. It began with an impressive pass interception by Clayton Barbour, who stepped in front of a pass from Pioneer quarterback Gunnar Gundy to end a serious threat.
“It felt great. I knew they were going to throw it there and I baited him and was able to make the interception,” Barbour said of the crucial pass theft. “They are a tough team, they run a lot and use their tight ends very well.
“It was just about overcoming obstacles and I think we came out on top and did the best we could. The second half we knew we had to come out and hit them hard. We solved what they were doing. We just stayed focused on the game and played hard.
“I could never picture this way to end my senior year. It’s a blessing to be able to play on this team and play for a great community,” Barbour added.
Following the interception, Cavender found daylight again, this time running 77 yards to set up a seven-yard touchdown scamper to the left end zone by junior Brennan Presley with 1:07 left to ice the victory.
Stillwater, which entered the game averaging 43.7 points per game, was limited to 207 total offensive yards, including 67 passing yards. The Pioneers, who had two turnovers, averaged 3.8 yards rushing per attempt.
“We were really prepared … we had been practicing for two weeks so we knew what they were going to do,” said senior linebacker/offensive tackle Noah West, who played at less than 100 percent much of the season. “We tried to do things better after their earlier drive.
“It was tough to overcome adversity like that during the season, but everyone helped keep my spirits up,” West said of a foot injury he battled though during the season to finish his career playing his best football.
NOTABLES – Bixby finished with 366 yards of total offense and relied on 281 yards rushing to offset Stillwater’s unorthodox defensive alignment, which limited passing opportunities for . Spartan sophomore quarterback Mason Williams was 14-of-20 passing for 85 yards. … Walker led Stillwater’s offensive effort with 145 yards rushing on 31 attempts and two touchdowns. Gundy was 9-of-20 passing for 67 yards and one interception. In last year’s 41-14 loss to Bixby in the state quarterfinals, Gundy was 9-of-20 passing for 70 yards. Anthony Bland led in receiving with six grabs for 44 yards. … Brennan Presley topped Bixby’s receiving unit with nine catches for 48 yards. … Since Class 6A split into two divisions in 2014, Bixby has played in every championship game, winning four and ending as runner-up to Tulsa Washington in 2017. This was Stillwater’s first trip to the state finals since 1977.