Bixby Repeats As Class 6A-II State Champions
12.5.15 by Ron Holt
The 2015 regular season was a roller coaster ride for Bixby High's defending Class 6AII State Champions.

But, once the playoffs started it was smooth sailing for the Spartans who never veered off course in their pursuit of hoisting a second Gold Ball.

Challenged from start to finish by gritty Sand Springs, Bixby produced the deciding big plays late in the hard-fought contest to complete its stunning playoff run with a 38-28 victory witnessed by more than 11,000 fans at Union-Tuttle Stadium Friday night. The victory capped off an impressive late season surge by Bixby, 9-4. The Spartans went into the playoffs as the fourth place team in District 6AII-1 with a 6-4 record. Few outside of Bixby liked the Spartans chances of repeating.

But, the Spartans came to life in all three phases in the playoffs, led by a dominating defense which contributed its best performances of the season.

Momentum was swinging in the championship game. Bixby had it first, Sand Springs captured the momentum early in the third quarter and the two teams exchanged leads until Bixby came up with a pair of fourth down defensive stops and scored the final 14 points of the game.

"That's football and it's all about momentum. When they scored our offense knew we had to go back out and make first downs. Against a team like that you can never let up. You can't slow down," said a smiling Bixby head coach Loren Montgomery.

"We had a lot of ups and downs this season and this team faced adversity. That's probably one thing that helped our mental outlook on things when we got into the playoffs."

Senior Connor Walker, who played the best ball of his career in the playoffs, agreed with the head coach's viewpoint.

"We've gone through so much this year. We could be down by 40 points and we'd still be fighting," said Walker, who had five catches for 75 yards and was outstanding on defense. "Those guys beat us 20-0 and we knew we had to come out and play twice as good as we did the first time. It came down to making plays and getting defensive stops. I'm so proud of our guys."

A three-play, 37-yard drive by Bixby, culminating on senior Nic Roller's 11-yard run with 5:26 showing in the first quarter, gave Bixby an early 6-0 lead.

Bixby's Walker recovered a fumbled option pitch by Sandite quarterback Hunter Greathouse later in the first quarter and Roller turned it into a two-yard touchdown run for a 13-0 Spartan lead at the 1:29 mark. The lead grew to 16-0 after Jason Campbell's 25-yard field goal midway through the second quarter.

Bixby led 16-7 at halftime but the Sandites seized the momentum early in the third quarter after a pass interception by Jacob Taber at the Spartans' 31. He ran to the 20 before pitching to Cruz Desjarlais who carried the ball into the end zone to trim Bixby's lead to 16-14.

On its next possession, Sand Springs, 7-5, took the lead 21-16 on a 14-yard touchdown pass from Greathouse to Trace Fleischman with 6:16 showing in the third quarter.

Bixby's offense answered the challenge, driving 61 yards in seven plays to regain the lead 24-21 after a one-yard TD run and two-point conversion run by Roller with 3:26 left in the third stanza.

Sand Springs took a 28-24 lead at the 9:01 mark of the fourth quarter after a 33-yard touchdown run by the elusive Payton Scott. Bixby responded in positive fashion, driving 73 yards in five plays to retake a 31-28 lead as quarterback Tanner Griffin connected with senior wide receiver Cade Cabbiness for a 17-yard touchdown with 7:09 left in the game.

"It was awesome. It was the best feeling in the world and was a dream come true," Cabbiness said of catching a touchdown in the championship game. "Throughout the year we struggled but when the playoffs came along we just got stronger and stronger and started hitting our potential.

"Whenever we got in tough spots we were able to stay together and make big plays when needed. By far, our team was the strongest it has been in the playoffs," he added.

Big plays in the drive included an 11-yard pass from Griffin to Tucker Pawley and a 33-yard pass play from Griffin to Walker.
Bixby's defense provided the momentum for the final drive as Greathouse's fourth-and-three pass to Fleischman was overthrown with Walker on the coverage.

"These kids have been so resilient. We had an issue of giving up a big play here and there but overall I thought they did a really good job tonight," said defensive coordinator Rodney Flowers. "When adversity hit I told them we've got to get another stop. The kids fought hard all night against a great Sand Springs team. We knew they would fight their tails off. It's fun to play a team like that."

The ball was placed in Roller's hand for the final 4:42 of the game and he helped move the chains before sealing the win with a tackle-breaking 17-yard touchdown run with 58 seconds remaining.

"We knew this was going to be our last game and we were going to battle until the last second. They scored and we didn't worry about it because we were going to score and win this game," said Roller, who finished his record-setting career with 157 yards on 37 carries and four touchdowns.

"On that last play we were just trying to hang onto the ball and it just opened up. It was a good feeling to finish that way. After all the adversity we've had this season, with me getting hurt and being one play from not even making the playoff to go 9-4 with no one picking us to win just makes it even better," added Roller.

Coach Montgomery said of Roller, "That last run by Nic is indicative of his career as a Bixby Spartan. In the fourth quarter with the lead when we had to move the chains we gave it to Nic. He's done that his entire career. It's special that his last run as a Bixby Spartan was a touchdown."

Helping pave the way for Roller's rushing success was senior offensive lineman Pryce Stickney, who wasn't surprised by the Spartans' offensive success after the earlier struggles against the Sandites.

"We had an amazing two weeks of practice so it didn't surprise me what we were able to do. We opened up the holes for Nic and whenever Nic gets going he's impossible to stop," said Stickney, a sixth man in the offensive line a year ago.

"We had some adversity throughout the season but we got everyone back and everyone healthy and we got some momentum and kept it going. Just knowing that I was a part of the team that won this state championship is truly a blessing from God."

Griffin, a junior signal-caller, was productive as he completed 14-of-17 passes for 176 yards and one touchdown, the pivotal strike to Cabbiness to regain the lead late in the game.

"We knew they couldn't stop us, we were the only ones to stop us. We had faith in our defense the whole time," Griffin said. "It's been a tough season and this was a tough team we played tonight. I'm out of words I don't know what to say."

SPARTAN NOTES - Twice in the fourth quarter, Bixby stopped the Sandites on fourth down. Early in the final stanza, Greathouse kept on a fourth-and-one but was denied by an inch. "I was in on that play with Coby (Tillman) and Evers (Brandon) and we just stuck him," said senior linebacker Kress Woodward. "They always say defense wins games. I think our defense is better than theirs. We've had a lot of bumps down the road but we overcame everything. It is incredible probably the best feeling I've ever had." Bixby ended with 331 total offensive yards and one turnover, while the Sandites had 291 total yards and three turnovers. Cabbiness led Bixby with eight pass receptions for 97 yards and one TD. Bixby's Breydon Daniel and Colton Tafoya intercepted passes against Greathouse, who entered the game being intercepted six times on the season.
Gregg Shipman Photography