By Ron Holt

Tested early and pressured late, unbeaten Bixby survived both predicaments in rallying past Jenks, 42-35, during Military Appreciation Night at the Spartans’ Lee Snider Stadium last Friday night.

The rivalry featured momentum changes and wasn’t decided until Bixby’s defense stopped Jenks’ final drive when a fourth-and-12 Trojan pass fell incomplete with 35 seconds remaining.

Bixby, 2-0 and ranked No.1 in Class 6AII, fell behind 14-0 early and trailed 21-7 midway through the second quarter before the Spartans seized the momentum, scoring 21 straight points for a 28-21 halftime lead. BHS built up 35-21 and 42-28 second half leads but JHS, 1-1 and ranked No. 2 in Class 6AI, battled back to have one final drive to tie the game.

“I was proud of our kids … coming out and getting down early and showing resolve was great since we are playing a bunch of young kids,” Spartan head coach Loren Montgomery said. “For them to continue to battle against a veteran, physical well-coached Jenks team was good. It was a dandy ball game.”

Jenks’ defense struck first as senior Jayden Patrick intercepted Bixby quarterback Mason Williams, returning the theft 59 yards for a touchdown and 7-0 Trojan lead at the 11:10 mark of the first stanza. Senior Grant Lohr’s nine-yard TD run with 6:10 showing in the first frame gave Jenks a 14-0 lead.

On Bixby’s third possession – kept alive by a personal foul flag on JHS – the Spartans’ talented junior running back Braylin Presley erupted 42 yards to the Jenks’ 25. Five plays later, Williams hit Presley with a three-yard TD narrowing the deficit to 14-7 at the 3:06 mark.

Both teams struggled in the second quarter before Jenks capitalized on a 43-yard run by Lohr before taking a 21-7 lead on Lohr’s two-yard TD with 4:37 left before halftime.

Bixby’s kicking game keyed the Spartans’ rally. Presley returned the kickoff following Jenks’ third score 53 yards. Later in the drive, Williams scrambled before hitting sophomore Jakeb Snyder in the corner of the end zone for a 26-yard TD pass, narrowing Jenks’ lead to 21-14 with 3:20 left.

On the ensuing kickoff, Bixby’s Connor Nolan booted a spinning kick that came to rest near the Jenks’ goal before being returned to the visitors’ eight-yard line. “Connor actually works on that little backspin. When it stopped it caught the guy off guard … give our kicking team credit for getting down there to cover the kick,” Montgomery said.

Three plays later, Spartan sophomore Dylan Hasz intercepted quarterback Stephen Kittleman’s pass, returning it 11 yards for a TD, evening the game at 21-all with 2:32 left before halftime.

A short Jenks punt set up Bixby’s final score of the first half – a 15-yard TD pass from Williams to Presley for the Spartans’ first lead, 28-21, with 38 seconds remaining.

“I thought our defense buckled down after we fell behind … the stop we got down there before halftime was critical for us to be able to take the lead at the half,” Montgomery said.

Bixby’s defense stopped Jenks’ first possession of the second half with the Spartan offense responding with a 13-yard TD run by Presley for a 35-21 lead with 7:13 left in the third quarter.

Jenks proved its resolve by driving for a 16-yard touchdown from Kittleman to tight end Waylon Adams, narrowing the gap to 35-28 with 5:32 showing.

Bixby later drove 61 yards to the Trojan 16-yard line, facing third-and-11. Williams avoided pressure to keep the play alive before passing into the end zone to senior wide receiver Jackson Rogers.

The pass was behind Rogers, who leaped backward and incredibly caught the ball laying on his back, giving the hosts a 42-28 lead. The eventual game-winning TD came with 1:13 left in the third quarter.

“The play really wasn’t coming to me, but when Mason started scrambling, I just turned upfield and tried to get open,” said Rogers, who grabbed his first touchdown reception of the young season. “I didn’t know at first that it was a touchdown but then it hit me that I made the catch … it felt great.

“We work on scrambling drills but nothing like that. It’s incredible to do it in this game … I couldn’t be happier. But we’ve got more games to play. We made some silly mistakes and had some penalties, things like that we need to clean up,” added Rogers, who had three catches for 24 yards.

Coach Montgomery added, “the cool thing about Jackson Rogers is that his dad (Mike) is our eighth-grade coach, his grandpa (Rick Rogers) was head coach here and his great-grandad (Red Rogers) was coach here. He was in kindergarten when I got to Bixby and he’s never missed a workout since he’s been in high school. I’m thrilled for Jackson and his family.”

Bixby’s defense was tested in the fourth quarter as Jenks applied pressure after an eight-yard TD pass from Kittleman to Ty Walls trimmed the Spartan lead to 42-35 with 6:13 left in the game. Kittleman avoided a sack while scampering 42 yards to keep the Trojan drive alive.

Penalties and a sack of Williams forced Bixby to punt with 3:08 left. JHS started its final drive on its 20. Jenks drove into Spartan territory in the final seconds before a fourth down Kittleman pass – covered by senior linebacker Nick Wedel and a teammate with 30 seconds left – fell to the turf at Bixby’s 47.

“We played great even though we had a lot of busts. We’ve got a lot of young players … but we’ll keep working to get better every single game and every single play,” Wedel said. “I’m really proud of the way we played tonight.

“You can’t ask for a better comeback than what we had tonight. When we were behind no one was in the dumps, we knew we’d come back. It’s one of the best feelings you can have when the defense is on the field to win the game at the end,” he said.

“This is a huge growth for our team. A lot of these young guys haven’t been in a close game like this … it’s good we get a close game like this early in the season.”

Williams put the early interception return in the rearview mirror, completing 25-of-39 passes for 231 yards and four touchdowns. He has thrown six touchdown passes this season.

“I think that’s why Mason is so good … he’s so calm, cool and collected,” Montgomery said of his senior’s ability to bounce back. “He was able to keep some plays alive, the touchdown to Jakeb Snyder was off a scramble.”

Presley rushed 20 times for 115 yards and one TD while catching10 passes for 68 yards and two scores. Sophomore Luke Hasz had three receptions for 72 yards.

After struggling in the season opener against Union, Bixby’s offensive line took positive strides against Jenks’ rugged defense.

“I thought we played great, honestly,” said 6-1, 271-pound senior offensive lineman Caleb Townsend. “Last week was a huge disappointment for the o-line. At practice every day we worked hard, got screamed at and came back with a better effort. We kept our pace up every single play.
“I was pleased with the way we battled back after getting down. We’re never going to give up at any time … even if we’re behind by 100 we’re never going to give up. We have young guys on the line, but I feel we’ll get better every week,” he noted.

NEXT GAME – After playing Union in Week Zero, Bixby is idle Friday, Sept. 11.

Bixby visits Stillwater Friday, Sept. 18, to end non-district play, starting at 7 p.m. Stillwater is 1-0 on the season after turning back Edmond Santa Fe, 45-32, in its season opener last Friday.

“We’ll watch film and put this one to rest and move on the down the road to get ready for Stillwater,” Montgomery said. “We’re a little banged up and there were plenty of mistakes we’ve got to clean up. I think this is probably a good time for an off week after playing two physical games against Union and Jenks and it’ll be good preparing to play Stillwater because they are unorthodox.”

NOTABLES – Bixby, ranked No. 23 in USA Today’s Top 25 national rankings, extended its winning streak to 27 games. … Friday’s win was Bixby third over the Trojans in the past four games in the series and the first back-to-back wins since 1968-69. In the last four meetings, Bixby outscored Jenks, 148-80, averaging 37 points per game. … Presley is off to an outstanding start, averaging 248 total yards in two games against Class 6AI powers. … Jenks out-gained Bixby, 453 total yards to 380 with the Trojans rushing for 242 yards and the Spartans passing or 231 yards. Kittleman passed for 211 yards and two TDs while Lohr ran 19 times for 108 yards and two scores

BHS OPPONENTS –  In other games involving Bixby opponents, Broken Arrow defeated Union (14-7); Bartlesville downed Claremore (34-10), Springdale (Arkansas) defeated Choctaw (46-18), Bishop Kelley defeated Sand springs (28-24), Booker T. Washington edged Del City (1-13), Guthrie topped Putnam West (43-20) and Putnam North downed Putnam City (31-6).