By Ron Holt
Lights. Camera. Action. In its first nationally televised game, Bixby’s No. 1-ranked Spartans did their part in providing action in ESPN’s high school football showcase Thursday night at Lee Snider Stadium.
Behind its prime-time performer – junior running back Braylin Presley – Bixby romped past Class 6AII-District 2 rival Booker T. Washington, 70-21, to finish the regular season unbeaten while extending the program’s winning streak to 33 straight games.
Presley, a 5-9, 160-pounder, put on a show, erupting for 201 yards rushing and four touchdowns while catching five passes for 155 yards and a TD. In addition, he had 41-yard kickoff return and two punt returns for 16 yards to finish with 413 all-purpose yards.
“It was our last district game and a chance to be a repeat district champion but I can say I was a little nervous … it was a little nerve-wracking but I just tried to settle down and focus on the game instead of thinking about it being nationally televised,” the always-smiling Presley said.
“I think this is one of my best game other than the Carl Albert game, but my mentality was the same … come out and try to get the district win and just play my game. It feels good to keep the streak alive, to go undefeated and to be going to the playoffs with great momentum. It was a great win tonight.”
Presley’s impressive evening featured tackle-breaking runs, along with dazzling stop-and-start, ankle-twisting moves. A national TV audience saw what Bixby fans and opponents watch on a weekly basis.
“Braylin seemed a step faster than he normally is. I think it was adrenalin and the big-game environment … I ‘m really proud of what he did. What a good night for him. He ran the ball, caught the ball, returned kicks and blocked,” Spartan head coach Loren Montgomery said.
“I thought Mason (Williams) did some good things and stepped up in the pocket and threw the ball well,” Montgomery said of Bixby’s senior quarterback. “The offensive line had a good night. Defense, once we settled down held them pretty well.
“Some of our biggest players made big plays in big circumstances which is what you expect. It doesn’t get any more prime time than playing on ESPN. It was a lot of fun,” he said.
The Spartans, 8-0 overall and 6-0 in District 2, handled the hype and excitement associated with playing on national television while focusing on winning their third straight district championship and entering the playoffs playing their best ball of the season.
“We were pretty excited … we knew we had to step up because it was a big game and lots of people would be watching,” said sophomore defensive back-wide receiver Jakeb Snyder, who caught a touchdown pass and recovered a fumble. “We had a really hard week of practice and just came together and had a really good game.
“We knew we were going to be on TV but when it came game time, we had to block that out and just play hard. We took away the pass in the second half … that was a key to the game,” he added.
Washington (6-3, 4-2) fumbled on its first possession with Bixby senior Devonta Owens recovering at the Hornet 29-yard line to set up Presley’s 29-yard touchdown. Connor Nolan kicked the extra point for a 7-0 lead with 10:05 left in the first stanza.
The athletic Hornets used a 30-yard kickoff return by Jaden King and a 47-yard scramble by quarterback Lathan Boone before capping the drive with a 24-yard TD pass from Boone to Jordan Drew to tie the game at the 8:08 mark.
With 5:10 left in the first stanza Bixby regained the lead when senior quarterback Mason Williams hit Snyder who carried a Hornet defender into the end zone for an 11-yard touchdown and 14-7 lead.
Bixby senior defensive back Tanner Doyle ended a lengthy Hornet drive by intercepting a deflected pass in the end zone and returning to the Hornet eight.
On the second play, Williams hit Presley with a short pass that Presley returned 92 yards for a touchdown and 21-7 Spartan at the 3:30 mark of the opening quarter. Presley broke an early tackle attempt before winning the sprint to the end zone.
Washington narrowed the deficit to 21-14 after a 49-yard pass play from Boone to Demetrius Prudom with 2:39 left in the first quarter before Bixby used a 25-yard pass play from Williams to Beau Bertelli on its next possession to set up Presley’s seven-yard TD run for a 28-14 Spartan lead.
Presley scored on a 20-yard run and Zach Blankenship added a seven-yard TD run for the Spartans – sandwiched around a 12-yard Hornet touchdown pass from Boone to Jalen Teague – for Bixby’s 42-21 halftime lead.
Bixby seized control of the game when Williams ran 30 yards for a touchdown on the Spartans’ opening possession of the third quarter. The Hornets fumbled the ball on the ensuing kickoff and Bixby used a 26-yard pass from Williams to Snyder to set up Presley’s 12-yard TD scamper for a 56-21 lead with 9:42 left in the third stanza.
“We eliminated a bunch of mistakes and I thought we played really well on offense tonight,” said Williams, who passed for 299 yards and three TDs while rushing eight times for 53 yards and one score.
“Being on national television was a very good experience for our guys, the school and the whole community too. I don’t think we let it get to us and thought we played well tonight.
“We had a lot of guys play well. I think we’re getting better which is what we want to do in the playoffs,” Williams added.
Williams ended his night by firing a perfect 18-yard touchdown pass in the corner of the end zone to sophomore Luke Hasz, who made a difficult catch while landing in-bounds, increasing the lead to 63-21 with 3:38 left in the third period.
Blankenship, a 5-7, 147-pound junior, ran two yards for Bixby’s final score with 11:50 showing in the fourth quarter.
“That was awesome, you don’t get that opportunity to play on national television very much, so we just tried to make the best of it,” said Blankenship, who rushed for 116 yards and two TDs. “First and foremost was winning the game and we had Braylin getting 409 all-purpose yards.
“I got in on offense quite a bit and got to show what I can do so it felt pretty good. The last couple of games we haven’t played that good but tonight we played better,” he added.
Bixby finished with 675 yards of total offense against a talented Hornet defense which had allowed only 14 points in their last four games and 81 total points during nine games this season prior to Thursday’s game. The Spartans averaged 11.4 yards per offensive play.
“I’m extremely pleased with the guys. Offensively, I think that was probably our best night,” said Bixby’s successful offensive coordinator Tyler Schneider. “That’s what we want to do that’s what we talk about all year … playing our best ball when we go into the playoffs.
“That Booker T. team is athletic and really good. They run a different defense than we are used to seeing. This being a short week our plays were different from what we’ve done in the past and the kids did a good job of picking that up.”
Defensively, Bixby bent in the first half as Washington scored on three pass plays. The Spartans adjusted to post a second half shut out.
“We were upset about giving up 21 points in the first half we just wanted to make sure they didn’t get more points on the board,” said Ky Roller, an improving 6-1, 315-pound junior defensive lineman. “I think we had a good game tonight … it was just a matter of doing our game plan.
“It was exciting being on national television. I’ve been in wrestling situations before with lots of people watching so I was prepared for this, but the coaches helped prepare us by telling us not to let our guards down. It was definitely a lifetime experience playing on TV … I’d like to do it again some time,” added Roller.
NEXT GAME – Bixby, winners of the three straight Class 6AII State Championships and the No. 1 seed, drew a first-round bye in the playoff scenario during the COVID-19 era. The Spartans will host the Ponca City at Del City (Friday, November 13) play-in winner Friday, November 20, in the state quarterfinals.
Other play-in games on Bixby’s side of the bracket include Midwest City hosting Muskogee and Lawton visiting Booker T. Washington.
Second-ranked Stillwater, winners of District 1, also drew a bye. Play-in games on Stillwater’s side of the bracket include Deer Creek at Sand Springs and Bartlesville at Putnam City North. Stillwater plays the Deer Creek-Sand Springs winner in the quarterfinals. Choctaw drew a bye and will play the Bartlesville-PC North winner in the quarterfinals.
NOTABLES – Senior Night festivities were held prior to kick off with senior football players and their families honored. … Washington lost three fumbles and had one pass intercepted while the Spartans turned the ball over three times. … Bixby is ranked No. 44 nationally by MaxPreps Sports. … Washington’s Boone, a sophomore quarterback, passed for 230 yards and three TDs while being picked off once. Drew, a junior, had six catches for 102 yards and a TD. … Defensively, Bixby was led by defensive back Jakeb Snyder’s nine tackles – eight unassisted – and a fumble recovery. Senior safety Tanner Doyle ended with eight tackles and his first pass interception of the season. Junior linebacker Jack Puckett finished with eight tackles while linebacker Beau Bertelli had seven tackles, five solos, and a tackle for loss while defensive lineman Ky Roller ended with six tackles, two unassisted. Senior linebacker Nick Wedel also had six tackles, three unassisted. Senior defensive end Macqeilen Ware had four solo tackles including two sacks and three tackles for losses. Connor Stacy had a tackle for a loss while Davonta Owens recovered a fumble and Dylan Hasz caused a fumble. … In other District 2 regular season finale results last Friday night, Choctaw routed Bartlesville (61-21) and Sand Springs thumped Putnam City West (51-13).