Resilient Spartans Advance To 6A-II Championship
11.19.16 by Ron Holt
SAPULPA - An often-used quote by coaches during the NCAA Basketball Tournament is to "survive and advance."
That quote could have been the motto for Bixby High Friday night at Sapulpa's Collins Field as the Spartans survived 120 yards in
penalties and another Sand Springs challenge in advancing to the Class 6AII State Championship.
Bixby, 9-3, plays for its third straight gold ball in the state finals against the 8-4 Lawton Wolverines, who defeated Muskogee,
35-28, Friday night at Yukon. The Spartans defeated Lawton, 35-21, to win its first state title in 2014.
With eight minutes left Friday and the game up for grabs, the Spartans methodically put together an 80-yard drive, capped off by
junior tailback Tucker Pawley's six-yard touchdown run with 5:50 left for a 28-21 lead.
Pawley scored from 16 yards out with over a minute left to seal the 35-21 victory and propel Bixby toward another championship
"It was pretty ugly there for a while with all the penalties," said a relieved Bixby head coach Loren Montgomery. "I told our guys
we had to play disciplined football. We've got a good football team but we're not good when we've got first-and-25.
"The defense came up big and had some big stops late. That was a good drive by our offense to get us the lead. We ran the
football really well during that drive and had some big catches. I was proud of our guys."
After trading interceptions opening the game, Bixby drove 84 yards in seven plays to take an early 7-0 first quarter lead on a
41-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Tanner Griffin to Eric Calton-Watkins.
Midway through the second quarter, Bixby increased its lead to 14-0 when Pawley burst 44 yards for a score to end an 87-yard,
seven-play drive. Jason Campbell drilled the extra point kick.
Sand Springs, aided by three costly Spartan penalties, narrowed the deficit when quarterback Hunter Greathouse hit talented
wide receiver Kasey Bales with a six-yard touchdown pass with 1:24 left in the first half.
The Sandite defense provided another scoring opportunity as Zach Riddle caught a 12-yard pass from Griffin but had the ball
knocked loose and Sand Springs recovered at its own 32.
A face mask penalty moved the ball into Spartan territory before the Sandites' Greathouse and Bales connected on a 24-yard
touchdown with 12 seconds left to tie the game 14-all at intermission.
The frustrated Spartans wanted to put the first half behind them after being flagged nine times for 105 yards.
Bixby used a two-yard run by Pawley on fourth-and-one at the Spartan 41 to ignite a third quarter drive that ended in a 16-yard TD
pass from Griffin to Clayton Barbour for a 21-14 lead with 7:56 showing in the third quarter.
Sand Springs capitalized on a 13-yard Spartan punt to tie the game at 21-all after Sandite tailback Payton Scott scored from four
Bixby's defense then put the clamps on the Sandites, allowing its offense to begin its go-ahead march.
"That first half we got a bunch of penalties and basically gave them a couple of scores," said senior standout defensive lineman
Brendon Evers. "At halftime we said we were going to play hard-nosed football and play smart.
"I was starting to get visions late in the fourth quarter that we were going to the championship again. It's a feeling that you can't
describe," he said.
Bixby's secondary provided a couple of crucial plays in the second half. Sophomore Cade Cavender knocked a ball out of the
hands of Bales in the end zone and senior Drake Allen was credited with a pass broken up in the end zone.
"In my mind there were a lot of big defensive plays but the one that stands out to me came when Bales makes that catch in the
end zone and Cade Cavender comes up and knocks it out. That was awesome," said Coach Montgomery.
Early in Bixby's go-ahead drive, the Spartans faced third-and-six situation at its own 23 when Griffin was forced to scramble from
pressure. He lofted a perfect pass to senior teammate Nic Swanson, who made a leaping catch over a Sandite defender for a
27-yard gain and first down at the Sandite 49.
Swanson also caught a 16-yard pass in the drive and was interfered on during another pass play, giving Bixby the ball at the
Sandite six-yard line to set up Pawley's go-ahead TD.
"I was double teamed most of the time but we all knew we needed to make plays and that's what I tried to do," said Swanson,
who caught five passes for 63 yards. "I couldn't be more proud of all my guys, everyone on this team. I couldn't have caught it
without Tanner's perfect throw.
"This just shows we don't give up … ever. This group of seniors wanted that gold ball and we weren't going to let go of that
opportunity," he added.
On the clutch drive, Griffin said, "We were confident but we decided no one was going to be a hero, we were going to play just
like we practice and move down the field. It was everyone doing their job, that's exactly what we said coming out of the huddle."
On his pass to Swanson to keep alive the go-ahead drive, Griffin said, "That's what's good about having a best friend playing with
you. We're on the same page.
"This never gets old … I wish I could do it all over game but I only have one more game. I'm proud of my guys," added Griffin, who
was 19-of-30 passing for 257 yards and two touchdowns, while also rushing four times for 27 yards.
Turning in a big time performance for Bixby was sophomore tight end Ryan Kerr. He had three catches for 80 yards and each
reception was pivotal.
"It was great just catching the ball and helping us move the ball," Kerr said afterward. "I really hadn't had that many receptions on
the season so catching these in this game is incredible. The game plan was the same as always - run the ball with Pawley,
throw some passes to Swanson and keep moving the ball.
"In a tight game like this there was a sense of urgency for the offense during that final drive," he added.
It was another typical night for Pawley. He carried the ball 30 times, gained 193 yards and scored three touchdowns. He
averaged 6.4 yards per carry.
"On that last drive it was time to put the game away. We weren't trying to run the clock out, we were trying to put it away,"
Pawley said. "We didn't want to overdo anything, just everyone doing their job and trusting each other.
"That's what we did. It really felt good when I scored that last touchdown. I was happy because we called it a night after that," he
NOTABLES - Bixby ended with 477 yards of total offense, 257 passing and 220 rushing. Sand Springs was held to 132 total
offensive yards. Scott paced the Sandites with 90 rushing yards and one TD and returned four kickoffs 80 yards. … Spartan
sophomore defender Ethan Hall intercepted a pass and had a pass broken up early in the first quarter. … Bixby has defeated
Sand Springs five times in six games the past three years. The Spartans scored 35 points for the second time against the
Sandites this season, winning the regular season finale 35-19. … The Spartans are on a seven-game winning streak. … Lawton,
which reaches the state title game for the second time in the past three years, has won four straight games. The Wolverines beat
Tulsa Washington (21-20) in the state quarterfinals.
Photos courtesy of David Stacy