Spartans Survive Sandites, Earn Home Playoff Game
11.5.16 by Ron Holt
Things went as expected Friday night at Bixby High's Lee Snider Stadium as the Spartans and Sand Springs competed in another hard-nosed football game.
Bixby survived this Sandite challenge because its playmakers made plays. The Spartans' offensive line was again a key performer. And, Bixby received critical contributions from its defense and special teams.
With the opportunity to host a quarterfinal playoff game as the carrot, the Spartans nibbled away from the outset and took an early lead it never relinquished in defeating Sand Springs, 35-19, in a feature Class 6AII-District 2 regular season finale.
Second-ranked Bixby ended the regular season with a 7-3 record and finished second in the district at 5-1. The Spartans host seventh-ranked Putnam City West (7-3, 5-2), the third place team in District 6AII-1, in the quarterfinal playoff opener Friday.
"We played them four times in the last two years so we knew it would be a tough game we knew what to expect," said Bixby's junior running back Tucker Pawley of fourth-ranked Sand Springs (6-4, 4-2). "We just had to get as many yards as we could and then bust a big one.
"The offensive line has been improving every single week they were the ones making the holes for me to run through," added Pawley, who rushed for 231 of Bixby's 239 yards on the ground on a career-high 35 carries and scored four touchdowns.
"Games with Sand Springs are always a battle," said Spartan head coach Loren Montgomery. "We knew it would be a good game and knew they had some good players and were a physical team. We had some penalties that really set us back and killed some big drives and we turned the ball over (twice).
"The ability to run the football was good for us, especially on that last drive when we ran a lot of time off the clock and scored," he added.
Effectively running the ball was a key for the Spartans, who ran 73 offensive plays while the Sandites had 61 plays. The offensive line continues to be a unit Bixby relies on.
"We definitely knew it would be a tough ball game. We knew they were going to battle and so were we," said junior offensive lineman Josh Owens. "They are physical but we played really physical too. I thought we blocked really well. They were a really good defense but we did a lot of things right."
Pawley scored on runs of one and 13 yards as Bixby built up a 14-0 lead with 9:44 remaining in the second quarter.
Sand Springs rallied on a 40-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Hunter Greathouse to Kasey Bales with 7:45 showing in the first half.
The Sandites' celebration was short-lived as Bixby's Clayton Barbour returned the ensuing kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown and 21-7 lead with 7:29 left in the second quarter.
Sand Springs' talented tailback Payton Scott bolted 34 yards for a score late in the second stanza but Bixby's Brendon Evers blocked the Sandites' conversion kick as Bixby led 21-13 at halftime.
Pawley ran 11 yards for a third quarter touchdown and finished the Spartans' scoring in the fourth quarter with a five-yard run, sandwiched around a two-yard TD run by the Sandites' Greathouse.
Sand Springs finished with 315 yards but the Sandites had a pair of turnovers and were turned back on a couple of occasions near the Spartan end zone.
"Every time we played Sand Springs it's a real tough ball game," said Spartan defensive back Ryan Matthews. "They ran better routes than I originally thought they would. They have a good team and a really good receiving corp.
"This was a big win. It gives us a home game and we play really good at home so it's good we don't have to travel halfway across the state. We're been practicing harder with the starters going against each other that's been a big boost," Matthews added.
Evers, along with linebacker Coby Tillman, contributed to Bixby's aggressive defensive performance. He knew it would take such an effort.
"We are both championship contender teams and every time we meet it's going to be a tough, hard-nosed game and there are going to be emotions flying," Evers said. "We knew the running back (Scott) was good and we trained all week for him. They hit some runs because, like I said, they are a championship type team too.
"I've won so much in this program but tonight is one I won't forget," Evers said of the Senior Night game. "It was a different feeling, nothing that I've experienced before."
Senior quarterback Tanner Griffin completed 25-of-34 passes for 254 yards. He didn't have a touchdown pass and was picked off once but the passing game was vital to the Spartans' offensive success.
"It was tough, they are always a physical team every year," Griffin said of the Sandites. "But, we had a really good week of practice going into the game. The weather was great and it was a good night for us, it was a big one for Senior Night.
"We worked all week on running the ball, which is a key against them. I felt good about how we ran the ball tonight," he said.
Senior receiver Nick Swanson continued his impressive, consistent play, finishing with 11 catches for 114 yards against a talented opposing secondary.
"They had great DB's, were really smart and they were tough," Swanson said. "The turnovers were bad but other than that we played really good. I feel good going into the playoffs."

NEXT GAME - Bixby begins defense of its Class 6AII State Championship Friday when Putnam City West visits. West took an early lead Friday against Choctaw before the Patriots pulled out a 40-37 double overtime victory to secure third place in District 6AII-1.
Putnam West won this season over Duncan, Putnam City North, Enid, Stillwater, Putnam City, Deer Creek-Edmond and Choctaw. The Patriots lost at Sand Springs (29-24), to Midwest City (21-16) and at Lawton (35-28). Putnam City and Sand Springs are common opponents with Bixby, which defeated both teams.

DISTRICT NOTES - In other District 6AII-2 games Friday, Muskogee wrapped up the district crown with a 48-0 win over Ponca City. Sapulpa lost 52-16 to Broken Arrow in a non-district game and Tulsa Washington stopped Bartlesville, 57-39, on Thursday night. In other Class 6AII quarterfinal pairings this weekend, Sand Springs visits Midwest City, Tulsa Washington travels to Lawton and Stillwater journeys to Muskogee.

NOTEBOOK - Sophomore Clayton Barbour's 95-yard kickoff return for a touchdown against the Sandites was his second kickoff return for a TD this season and Bixby's fourth as a team. The Sandites' Greathouse passed for 172 yards, one touchdown and was intercepted once, while teammate Scott rushed for 125 yards on 25 carries and one TD. Bales led the Sandite receivers with seven catches for 113 yards and one score. Bixby won the two Class 6AII state championships and understands the need to elevate its intensity and focus for the playoffs. "We're prepared and are working hard right now," said Griffin, who engineered the two state title runs. "We just need to clean up a few little things and we'll be on our way."
Photos by Gregg Shipman Photography