Surging Spartans To Play For 6A-II Championship
11.23.15 by Ron Holt
OWASSO - Bixby's surging Spartans were determined to keep Bartlesville from experiencing deja vu during a Class 6AII State Semifinal Game at Owasso Stadium here Saturday afternoon.

In an earlier district meeting in Bixby, Bartlesville rallied from an early 21-7 deficit in beating the Spartans 50-33.
Bartlesville fell behind 19-0 early in Saturday's semifinal rematch before scoring three touchdowns in a span of three and a half minutes to rally for a 21-19 lead.

This time the 8-4 Spartans responded in a positive fashion, scoring 48 unanswered points in romping past the Bruins, 67-21, while earning a spot in the Class 6AII State Championship Game in two weeks.

Bixby, the fourth place District 6AII-1 finisher, and Sand Springs, the third place 6AII-1 placer, will have a rematch Friday, Dec. 4, starting at 7 p.m. with the state crown on the line.

Bixby excelled in all phases Saturday, amassing 518 yards of total offense, limiting the 10-2 Bruins to 354 total offensive yards, including minus-34 rushing yards, and turning in an effective special teams performance.

"What's been disappointing for us all year is we knew we were a better football team than we had played," said BHS head coach Loren Montgomery. "I feel like this was the first game where we were able to put three phases together and simply not turn the ball over, which is huge.

"Our guys just hung in there. We know on defense we have to make teams earn it and on those three touchdowns they had in the second quarter to go up 21-19 we weren't making them earn it.

"We got some pressure on their quarterback, who is slippery, and forced a couple of bad balls and got a couple of stops. That's what you have to do against a good team. I'm proud of the way our guys settled down," said Coach Montgomery.

Senior running back Nic Roller looked closer to full speed than he has in past weeks as he rushed for 209 yards on 35 carries and added to his legacy with a record-setting seven touchdown performance. He scored on runs of 22, 1, 1, 6, 12, 25 and two yards.

The Spartans were sharp early, scoring on a 24-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Tanner Griffin to versatile senior receiver/defensive back Connor Walker late in the first quarter.

"We just made plays when we had to," said Walker, who led the Spartans with nine receptions for 136 yards and one score. "The defense did a good job stopping them on third down and getting off the field and the offense kept getting third down conversions. That's what we focused on.

"We felt like in the first half the only reason they were scoring was because we were giving them stuff with busted coverages so we came out the second half and shut them out."

A couple of minutes later the Bruins' trickery on a fake punt misfired as A. J. Archambo's pass was intercepted by Jake Spriggs, who returned it 34 yards for a touchdown and a 12-0 Bixby lead.

"That was my only job on that play, just don't let them pass it there. It was a pretty easy job," Spriggs said. "In the locker room at halftime we weren't getting all hyped up we just kept talking about the last game when they beat us. We just had to keep working.

"It feels so much better," Spriggs, who ended with four receptions for 45 yards, said of the state finals berth. "Last year we just won out but this year we go 6-4 and everyone was counting us out so this feels much better. Defensively, since the playoffs started we figured this out. We're starting to click together."

Penrod, who passed for 388 yards and three touchdowns while being picked off twice, carved up the Spartans during the second quarter, passing for touchdowns of 77, 35 and 30 yards to give the Bruins the short-lived lead.

Besides four second half Roller touchdown runs, the Spartans also capitalized on a 46-yard pass interception return for a touchdown by sophomore linebacker Coby Tillman midway through the third quarter.

Trailing 26-21 late in the first half, Bartlesville drove to the Spartan 12-yard line before the defense made the first of several big plays. Penrod picked a bad snap off the turf but was forced to scramble as senior linebacker Kress Woodward sacked the Bruin signal-caller for a 13-yard loss. Bartlesville's drive fizzled after a 42-yard field goal was missed by Garrett Meidl.

"I felt like we stepped up and knew what we had to do. Our offense feeds off how our defense plays and when our intensity is up the offense gets going too," said Woodward. "We played well against their quarterback, who is really good. I'm pumped up for our next game."

Besides 247 yards rushing, Bixby gained 271 yards passing as Griffin had a solid, poised performance Saturday. He was 24-of-31 passing for 271 yards and one touchdown.

He was picked off once as a pass deflected off the hands of a receiver into the hands of the Bruins' Nate Hansen, who set up the go-ahead touchdown with a 29-yard theft return.

"I felt better and felt I had the understanding of what we were trying to do offensively and the line protected me pretty good the whole game," said Griffin, who rushed nine times for 38 yards. "We felt confident that we were doing what we needed to do and we just kept doing it.

"We had confidence today. We knew we could come back and knew we could play with them. We just did what we needed to do and did it all day."

SPARTAN NOTES - Sand Springs improved to 7-4 after its 30-23 semifinal win over top-ranked Tulsa Washington Friday. The Sandites blanked Bixby, 20-0, in the regular season finale but the Spartans look forward to the rematch. "Honestly, it feels better than last year, which was a little easier," said Walker. "This year we really hard to work through some adversity so I'm really proud of my teammates." Griffin added, "We've had some bumps in the road but we're coming together as a team and playing like we need to at the right time. It'll be a tough game, we just had to play like we know we can." Bixby converted 12-of-17 third down opportunities. Tucker Pawley ended with eight catches for 72 yards.
Gregg Shipman Photography