By Ron Holt
JENKS –A strong start and determined finish allowed Bixby’s defending Class 6AII state champion Spartans to withstand a late charge by defending Class 6AI state champion Jenks in capturing a 23-15 victory in front of a large Allan Trimble Stadium crowd and television audience here Friday night.
With the game-of-the-week win, Bixby – ranked No. 1 in Class 6AII and No. 25 nationally by MaxPreps – extended its winning streak to 38 games and extended its winning streak over longtime rival Jenks to three games.
As expected, it was a hard-fought contest made more difficult by steaming weather conditions … a game featuring turnovers and missed opportunities by both squads. And featuring big-time defensive plays by numerous Spartans. It was a game leaving both teams seeking improvement before district play starts.
“I expected this to be a good ball game … they are really good defensively,” Spartan head coach Loren Montgomery said. “They got a couple of guys hurt early and we had some guys cramping so it became a depth issue, and we had several guys step up.
“We’ve got a lot of things to clean up, but I was pleased with their effort. It was the kind of game we thought it would be.”
The Spartans (2-0) are idle Friday, September 10, before returning to action Friday, September 17, when Stillwater visits for the final non-district game.
Bixby seized the early momentum at Jenks, taking a 16-0 first half lead on a five-yard touchdown pitch from senior quarterback Christian Burke to junior Dylan Hasz with 9:02 showing in the first quarter, a dazzling 74-yard TD run by senior Braylin Presley at the 1:47 mark of the second quarter and a 34-yard field goal 53 seconds before halftime by senior Connor Nolan – who also contributed two point-after kicks.
The Spartans capitalized on three first-half Jenks turnovers and a missed Trojan field goal. A critical pass interception by senior linebacker Beau Bertelli late in the first half set up Nolan’s field goal. An interception off a deflected pass by senior defensive back Preston Solomon protected the first half lead.
“We had some huge takeaway and turnovers. Beau Bertelli’s interception down there was really big.” Montgomery noted.
Early in the third quarter, Bixby went on a lengthy drive which ended in a 15-yard TD pass from Burke to junior Jakeb Snyder for a 23-0 lead with 5:31 left in the stanza. A 25-yard pass from Burke to junior standout Luke Hasz on third down highlighted the drive along with a clutch 22-yard pass play from junior quarterback Connor Kirby to Bertelli.
“We’ve been working on the pass a lot in practice, coach has been telling me that seam would be open, and it was. I just let it fly and hit him (Bertelli),” Kirby said.
The momentum shifted after a Trojan punt was mishandled by Presley, who appeared to have signaled late for a fair catch, with Jenks recovering at the Spartan 39-yard line. Jenks’ junior quarterback Ike Owens maneuvered the Trojans (1-1) to the Spartan one where junior running back Jaiden Carroll scored, trimming the deficit to 23-7 with 18 seconds left in the third period.
Behind a short passing game early in the fourth quarter, Jenks controlled the ball and traveled 93 yards for a one-yard TD sneak by Owens and a two-point conversion pass from Owens to Ty Wallis to make things interesting at 23-15 with 3:56 remaining.
Bixby punted to the Trojans with 1:43 left with JHS starting at its own 38-yard line. On the second play, Spartan senior linebacker Miles Hill shed a blocker before sacking Owens and causing a fumble which senior defensive lineman Brayden Darrell recovered at the JHS 41 with 1:26 left sacking up Bixby’s victory.
“On that last play, I was just thinking I’ve got to outwork this dude one more time … I was giving it my all,” an excited Hill said afterward. “I wasn’t going to let nobody take away my tackle for a loss.
“It felt amazing because I had been working for that the whole game. That’s probably the most rewarding thing I’ve experienced these first two weeks.”
The final statistics indicate the game’s closeness with the Spartans winning the total offense battle 330 yards to 305. Burke finished with 16-of-25 passing for 152 yards and two touchdowns while Kirby, normally in the game to run, was 2-for-4 passing for 23 yards while also rushing 11 times for 39 yards.
Presley carried the ball 14 times for 120 hard-fought yards and a TD burst while also catching five passes for 56 yards.
“We were blessed to come in here and beat a great team … I just feel like we outlasted them tonight,” Presley said. “We definitely have a lot of things to clean up between now and when Stillwater comes to town in two weeks. I think we’ll buckle down and be ready.”
Bixby’s defense paved the way for the win thanks to depth that contributed significant minutes assisting with heat issues.
“I think we have a chance to have a good defense when we find our identity. I’m proud of our guys for hanging in there when they were tested,” coach Montgomery said. “Connor Stacy had to come out and Hank Puckett came in and played really well. Dylan Hasz was spent so Rodrigo Romero came in and played really well.
“Zack Blankenship went in at inside linebacker and I thought he did well. At that stage of the game, it came down to depth and I was pleased with those guys.”
NEXT GAME – After meeting in playoff games in the past, Stillwater visits Bixby for a regular season meeting at Lee Snider Stadium. BHS was scheduled to play at Stillwater in 2020 but COVID concerns forced cancellation. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.
Stillwater – which hosts Class 6AI’s Mustang Friday, September 10 – relied on a strong ground game last week in a 30-20 victory at Edmond Santa Fe, the defending Class 6AI state runner-up in 2020. For the first time in four years, Bixby won’t face record-setting Pioneer running back Qwontrel Walker. But junior Noah Roberts rushed 27 times for 153 yards and one TD and sophomore Holden Thompson rushed 27 times for 95 yards against Santa Fe.
Junior quarterback Gage Gundy, the youngest son of Oklahoma State head football coach Mike Gundy, was 11-of-19 passing for 97 yards and one TD and rushed six times for 40 yards. Senior linebacker Gabe Brown, an Oklahoma State commitment, anchors the Pioneer defense.
DEFENSIVE LEADERS – Junior defensive back Cale Fugate led Bixby’s defensive effort against Jenks with 13 total tackles, including seven solo stops. He also had one tackle for a loss. Senior linebacker Jack Puckett ended with nine tackles – five solos – and three quarterback hurries.
Senior Connor Stacy had seven tackles (five unassisted) while Beau Bertelli, Joshua Newkirk and Jakeb Snyder each had six tackles. Also contributing were Dylan Hasz (five tackles, one for a loss), Preston Solomon (five tackles, two solos, one interception and three hurries), Brayden Darrell (five tackles, three for loss and a fumble recovery) and Miles Hill (four tackles, two for losses, a sack and caused fumble).
“They threw a lot of stuff at us … that’s a quality ball club and they are well coached. They threw a lot of wrinkles in there and made us get out of what we do,” Bixby’s defensive coordinator Rodney Flowers said. “We did a good job of shutting the run game down but in long yardage situations we couldn’t get off the field at times and they had some long drives that were taxing on our kids.
“We were kinda handcuffed because we had some kids cramping up. I was proud of Hank Puckett (three tackles, one hurry), a sophomore, for stepping in for one of our guys and Rodrigo Romero (three tackles) did a good job coming. Connor Kirby (two tackles, one for loss) had a great play … he was another guy coming in and giving some guys a break.
“We’ve got a lot of things to clean up, but I was pleased with their effort.”
NOTES – The victory over Jenks was Bixby’s fourth in the past five games and was the Spartans’ second straight win at Allan Trimble Stadium. … After the physical play against Jenks, the idle week could benefit the Spartans. “It’s going to be big because we’re beat up after a game like this and we got exposed in a lot of areas. We’re going to have to clean some things up and heal up a little. I hope we’ll get a good game plan together against Stillwater … they are always tough,” Montgomery said. … Connor Kirby, hurriedly sent into the game to play defense, responded with a six-yard loss that helped end a Jenks drive. “It was awesome, I shoved off the block and got outside and made the tackle. Coaches always tell us to be ready at any time and I was and was able to make that play,” Kirby said. “We outlasted them but there are a lot of things we’ve got to work on offensively and defensively.” … Jenks won the time of possession battle – 27:13 to 20:38 – while also converting on six-of-12 third down attempts. … Jenks’ Owens was 22-of-34 passing for 235 yards and two interceptions. Junior Jayden Johnson led JHS in pass receptions with seven grabs for 83 yards. … Spartan punter/place-kicker Connor Nolan hit his first field goal of the season. This season, he’s averaging 36.0 yards per punt while connecting on 11-of-12 extra point attempts.
ON THE AIR – Bixby football games this season can be heard over The Sports Animal, 97.1 FM, starting with the pregame show 30 minutes prior to kickoff. Returning to call the action are Shawn Tiemann, who provides play-by-play commentary, and Mark Wozniak, the color commentator.
Tiemann also hosts the Loren Montgomery Coaches’ Show from 6 to 6:30 p.m. Tuesdays on 97.1 FM at Doc’s Country Mart.