By Ron Holt

EDMOND – There were a variety of mistakes and numerous missed opportunities on both sides of the Class 6AII State Championship football game last Saturday night here at the University of Central Oklahoma’s Wantland Stadium

But in the final analysis it was the resiliency, persistence and toughness of defending champion Bixby – and the defense in particular – that allowed the top-ranked Spartans to celebrate a hard-fought 17-14 victory over surprising Choctaw and the program’s third straight Class 6A state crown and sixth in seven appearances.

Defense – by both units – was the story of this title game as both teams were shut out in the second half. Despite giving up two long-distance touchdown pass plays in the first half, Bixby’s defense provided numerous critical plays in blanking No. 4 Choctaw’s high-powered offense in the final two quarters.

“They played amazing. Choctaw had two big plays in the first half, but I just told them if they don’t score, they don’t win,” Bixby’s defensive coordinator Rodney Flowers said. “I was proud of them, fighting through everything we’ve been through this year … we fought through adversity and came out on top.”

Bixby finished the coronavirus-plagued season unbeaten (11-0) for the second straight season and ended the year riding a 36-game winning streak.

The Spartans went three-and-out on their first possession of the game but received a break when Connor Nolan’s punt was muffed by Choctaw’s Ethan Rone with Bixby’s Zach Blankenship recovering at the Yellowjackets’ three-yard line.

Sophomore Jersey Robb scored on the first play and Nolan kicked the conversion for a quick 7-0 Spartan lead with 10:40 showing in the first quarter.

Choctaw sophomore quarterback Steele Wasel scrambled on the Yellowjackets’ second possession before firing a 38-yard TD pass to sophomore running back Latrell Ray to tie the game at 7-all with 4:57 left in the first stanza.

Bixby regained the lead with 1:48 showing when junior tailback Braylin Presley scooted 28 yards for a TD and a 14-7 Spartan lead. BHS converted two third-down plays on the drive including a 12-yard scramble by senior quarterback Mason Williams.

“First I want to say credit to Choctaw, they came out and played well,” said Presley, who finished with 218 yards on 35 carries and one TD while winning his third state ring. “The first half we were pretty successful but the second half we struggled some offensively.

“There’s no other team I’d rather celebrate with than these guys. We’ve put in so much work … it’s unbelievable.”

Early in the second quarter, Bixby sophomore Dylan Hasz stepped in front of a Wasel pass for his fifth pass interception of the season. An ensuing 15-yard personal foul penalty on Choctaw moved the ball to the CHS 13 before Bixby settled for Nolan’s 29-yard field goal for a 17-7 lead with 9:18 left before halftime.

Later in the period, Presley reeled off gains of 50 and 10 yards to the Choctaw 10 behind before fumbling the ball to the Yellowjackets at the CHS 16. Two plays later, Steele hit Wesley Zeigler on a short pass. Zeigler eluded a tackle attempt by BHS sophomore Jakeb Snyder before running untouched down the sideline for an 85-yard TD.

Tommy Yousey’s conversion kick trimmed the deficit to 17-14 with 1:29 left in the first half.

Bixby had one final scoring attempt late in the first half. The drive ended at CHS’s two after Presley was stopped for no gain as time expired. The Spartans’ appeared to score on a perfect 23-yard pass from Williams to Preston Solomon in the end zone but the pass was ruled incomplete after Solomon lost control hitting the turf.

Big time defensive plays in the first half included Hasz’ interception and a shoestring tackle by Beau Bertelli of Choctaw receiver Terrell Davis for no gain on fourth-and-two at Bixby’s seven in the second quarter.

Bixby’s defense responded in similar fashion in the second half. On Choctaw’s second drive, a fourth-and-four screen pass from Bixby’s 43 was knocked down and almost picked off by Spartan junior defensive lineman Ky Roller.

Choctaw threatened on its next possession starting from its own 24. Three plays later, Wasel connected with Ray for a 35-yard pass play that ended on a TD-saving tackle by Snyder. A 20-yard pass from Wasel to tight end RJ Jackson moved the ball to the BHS 12.

The Yellowjackets moved to the Bixby seven before Snyder stepped in front of a Choctaw receiver to make a stunning interception which he returned 29 yards to the BHS 30.

“I made a mistake on their long touchdown, but my teammates told me everybody on the team makes a mistake at times, but you’ve got to bounce back from it … you have to respond to adversity,” said Snyder, who was credited with three total tackles, one pass broken up and shared a tackle for a loss.

“Coming out in the second half I wanted to make up for it and help my team out. On the interception, I had the first guy out and he came straight out. I stayed behind him a little and watched the quarterback’s eyes, he looked right at him. When he started to throw it, I just jumped in front of it. It felt amazing.

“I was just happy we stopped them … coach Flowers told us at halftime if they can’t score, they can’t win. When they got in the red zone, we just had to grit our teeth. It feels great. We had a young team, but we came together and played as a team. I don’t know how to describe it,” added a smiling Snyder.

Choctaw threatened with time running out but two sacks by Spartan junior linebacker Jack Puckett left the Yellowjackets in scramble mode on a fourth-and-six at Bixby’s 45. Wasel hurriedly took the snap before being wrestle to the turf by a host of Spartan defenders with four seconds left.

Williams took a knee to end the game and ignite the Spartan celebration.

“We made critical plays in the second half,” Bixby’s successful 11th-year head coach Loren Montgomery said. “Jakeb Snyder had a big play and we put a lot of pressure on their quarterback all night long. We had a lot of guys step up and make plays. I’m proud of our guys.

“I’m proud of the team’s resiliency and so proud of the way they competed and the way they hooked up and came through in a pinch. The defense was great with a lot of guys making plays. The stop right at half, Snyder’s play, Jack Puckett getting a couple of big plays at the end. Being able to get pressure on their quarterback was a key.

“These championships are never easy to win. We’re going to enjoy this one,” added Montgomery, who has a head coaching record at Bixby of 94-37 with six state championships.

Puckett, a 6-1, 207-pounder, spent last season hampered by an injury. He became a critical piece of an inexperienced Spartan defense this season, finishing the championship game with seven total tackles – six unassisted – 3.5 sacks for 21 yards in losses and 4.5 tackles for a loss of 22 yards.

“This means so much to me personally. I’m so proud for my team, these guys are young, but they’ve matured during the season,” said the personable Puckett. “These guys are playing like seniors now. This defense is so tough not only physically but mentally. I don’t believe there’s any better defense.

“I had a couple of plays late but Jakeb Snyder’s interception completely shifted the momentum and allowed me to make some more plays. It’s a team thing. It feels awesome to be in a key role, there’s nothing like it …it’s the best feeling ever.”

Williams, who was credited with 34 passing yards and 51 pivotal rushing yards, ends his career with three state championships, a winning record of 36-1 and leaves with more than 9,000 career passing yards and as the school record holder with 110 touchdown passes.

“Mason made some good plays tonight. I’m happy for Mason and all of our seniors, happy to send them out with a state championship,” Montgomery said.

While surrounded by reporters after the game, Williams was teary-eyed as he spoke. “That’s a really good Choctaw that we played tonight and I’m happy we got the win. This is very special, being a senior, that makes it really special.”

When asked what he would say to Bixby’s defense, he said, “thank you, you saved us for sure. I love all those guys. I’ve never really cried after a game, but this is the last time I’ll play with these guys. It’s very special.”

NOTABLES – The 17 points were the fewest Bixby has scored in a Class 6AII state championship game. The three-point win was Bixby’s narrowest of the season, topping the seven-point (42-35) win over Class 6AI state champion Jenks. …The Wantland Stadium crowd was estimated at 5,400. … As a team, Bixby’s defense was credited with 10 sacks for 60 yards in losses. … Bixby seniors Tanner Doyle and Nick Wedel, the two lone returning starters, finished their careers in impressive fashion. Doyle, a safety and the team’s leading tackler, was credited with eight total tackles, six unassisted, and one tackle for a loss. Wedel, the middle linebacker, was credited with four tackles, including a jarring tackle on Choctaw quarterback Steele Wasel, while sharing a tackle for loss. Sophomore Jersey Robb tied Doyle with eight total tackles while recording two sacks and three tackles for a loss. Dylan Hasz had five total stops, shared a tackle for a loss, had a pass interception and broke up a pass. Sophomore lineman Ky Roller had four tackles and a sack for an eight-yard loss while breaking up a pass. Connor Stacy also finished with four tackles. Senior lineman Macqeilen Ware ended his career with three tackles and two sacks for 12 yards in loss. … Senior linebacker Elijah Wilder led Choctaw in tackles with nine while recovering a fumble. CHS junior defensive end DeSean Brown ended with three tackles while also deflecting a pass from Bixby quarterback Mason Williams, intercepting the deflection and returning it six yards before Williams made a touchdown-saving tackle in the second quarter. … Bixby ended with 309 yards of total offense while Choctaw ended with 394 total yards. The Spartans’ determined offensive line opened up running lanes against Choctaw’s defense which was determined to stop the run. … In fourth down conversions, Bixby was 1-for-3 and Choctaw was 1-for-6. … CHS’s Wasel was 17-for-26 passing for 324 yards and two TDs. CHS was limited to 60 rushing yards.