By Ron Holt

Bixby went from a 2019 season highlighted by the school’s first undefeated football season into a 2020 season highlighted by uncertainty.

While understanding the day-to-day mentality surrounding this season because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Spartans are scheduled to open the season Friday, Aug. 28, against Class 6AI power Union at Bixby’s Lee Snider Stadium Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.

Bixby was scheduled to play at Mansfield (Texas) Timberview in the 2020 opener, but the game was canceled after the Texas Interscholastic League moved the start of its high school football season back several weeks. Union was in the same predicament causing the two schools to schedule a rare meeting. The Spartans return to the field after closing 2019 in historic fashion, winning the school’s fifth Class 6AII State Championship in the past six years – and second title in a row – while running their winning streak to 25 straight games.

It was a season and exciting finish that won’t soon be forgotten. The Spartans, who were ranked No. 1 throughout the season, trailed Stillwater 36-33 in the final minutes of last season’s Class 6AII state title game at University of Central Oklahoman’s Wantland Stadium in Edmond.

Bixby put together a courageous offensive drive – scoring a touchdown with only 1:04 left – while the defense responded by recovering a fumble to thwart Stillwater’s final drive and preserve the Spartans’ thrilling 40-36 victory in front of a large, vociferous crowd.

BHS returns several offensive playmakers from that team while featuring numerous new faces on a defense returning only two starters. Because of the returning talent and quality potential of the newcomers, Bixby holds the preseason No. 1 ranking in Class 6AII.

Like all other state high school teams, Bixby has experienced an unprecedented offseason because of virus concerns. The weight room work produced successful results during the summer, but the Spartans missed 7-on-7 league play and the competitive Southwest Elite 7-on-7 Showcase in Springdale, Arkansas while also missing out on team camp participation.

Preparation was different from past seasons. Bixby head coach Loren Montgomery and his capable staff made the most of the opportunities to work the team, find replacements for numerous graduation losses and install virus precautions. This season will be a work in progress early on.

“Our coaches worked really hard on our installs and getting things in … we ran plays against air, but we didn’t get to play real football,” Coach Montgomery said. “We did two pretty cool intra-squad 7-on-7 scrimmages which was good getting those young guys some looks but it wasn’t the same as what we’ve done in the past.

“We ended up getting nine pretty good weeks in the weight room. We had more steak eaters – guys with perfect attendance – than we’ve ever had. I think the kids were anxious to get back out here.”

Bixby had bright spots in its only scrimmage of the preseason, defeating Broken Arrow, 21-7, in a half game situation in the Bixby Classic last Friday.

“On that last series I felt like we executed things pretty well. We still have some things to work on like getting lined up correctly … things you’d expect for the first scrimmage,” Montgomery said. “It’s good to see who’s still a little confused and get some first game jitters out of the way.

“Defensively, we only have two starters back. We have a lot of young guys in the secondary, so it was good to get them some time against a good quarterback and running back and a good offensive coordinator. We got confused a couple of times and gave up big plays.”

Senior quarterback Mason Williams, who guided Bixby to two straight Class 6AII state titles, was on target in the scrimmage, completing17-of-20 passes for 136 yards and three touchdowns. He tossed a six- yard touchdown pass to sophomore Jakeb Snyder and a six-yard TD to sophomore Luke Hasz for a 14-0 first quarter lead.

Broken Arrow narrowed the gap to 14-7 in the second quarter thanks to a 49-yard touchdown pass, but Bixby sealed the win when Williams connected with junior Preston Solomon for a 19-yard TD pass with 1:44 left in the half game.

UNION OPTIMISTIC – Union, Class 6A1’s fourth-ranked team, finished last season with an uncharacteristic 6-5 record, losing in the state quarterfinals at Broken Arrow (35-31).

During 2019, UHS, coached by Kirk Fridrich, lost at Mansfield (Texas) Lake Ridge (47-44), fell to BA (14-0), defeated Jenks (35-20), lost at Owasso (34-10), lost to Mustang (23-21), won at Putnam City North (28-7), defeated Moore (44-10), defeated Norman North (48-13), won at Southmoore (57-0) and won at Edmond North (50-7) to end the regular season.

Union’s offense features running back A. J. Green, one of the state’s top running backs and an Arkansas commitment, and quarterback Rovaughn Banks who revitalized UHS’s offense after taking over at quarterback the last six games. Union went 5-1 with Banks at quarterback in 2019.

UHS, which returns five defensive starters, missed playing in the state semifinals for the time since 2006. “Their season didn’t go the way they wanted it last year … I think they went on a streak and won five of their last six games. Their schedule was tough. They’re a heckuva good program,” Montgomery said.

Union used a 10-yard touchdown pass from Banks to De’Monn Sanders to clip Edmond Santa Fe 10-3 in overtime in its half-game scrimmage last Thursday night.

NEXT GAME – Bixby remains home Friday, September 4, when the Spartans entertain long-time rival Jenks at Lee Snider Stadium, kicking off at 7 p.m. Jenks was state runner-up in 2019 and is ranked second behind defending Class 6AI state champion Owasso in the preseason rankings.

Bixby turned in a stunning performance at Jenks last season, routing the Trojans 57-7 in one of the Spartans’ most dominating wins in the series and second victory in the past three meetings against JHS. TOUGH START – Bixby’s non-district schedule is likely the most challenging in school history. After opening at home in back-to-back games with Union and Jenks, the Spartans have an open date before ending non-league play at Stillwater. “I don’t try to make the non-district schedule this tough,” Montgomery said. “You’d like to have one or two tests but not three. It’ll prepare you, though, for the district schedule. Our kids seem to be pretty confident even with a bunch of new guys.”

RESPECT – According to MaxPrep’s preseason poll of the top teams in Oklahoma, Bixby (13-0) ranks No. 1, followed by Jenks (8-5), Broken Arrow (9-3), Owasso (13-0), Stillwater (12-1), Carl Albert (13-1), Union (6-5), Heritage Hall (11-1), Del City (9-3) and Vian (12-2). In MaxPrep’s list of the Top 100 teams nationally, Bixby ranks No. 95 and Owasso No. 99.

NOTABLES – Bixby’s 25-game winning streak is the longest in state 11-man football. … Williams is one of the state’s top quarterbacks entering the season after throwing 47 touchdown passes last season. In his career, he’s thrown for 6,716 yards and 83 TDs. … Junior running back Braylin Presley was limited in the BA scrimmage to three carries for 49 yards. He’s one of the top runners in the state, finishing 2019 with 1,386 yards while contributing 29 all-purpose TDs. In the state title win over Stillwater, Presley rushed 24 times for 125 yards and caught two passes for 14 yards, including the game-winning 12-yard TD. … Bixby lost several talented receivers but has a stable of young, quality receivers ready to take the field. Senior Devonta Owens and sophomore Luke Hasz led a balanced receiving group against BA with six catches for 34 yards and four grabs for 37 yards, respectively. … Offensive line leaders include returnees senior Caleb Townsend and junior Cody Paschall. … Returning defensive starters are senior linebacker Nick Wedel and senior defensive back Tanner Doyle, both playing well in the scrimmage.

Sophomore defensive back Dylan Hasz intercepted a pass against BA.