By Ron Holt
TULSA – Early on, sloppy play – turnovers, miscues, costly penalties, missed kicks and ineffective execution on both sides of the ball – was on display in the QuikTrip-sponsored Battle of the ‘Burbs between Bixby’s Spartans and Owasso’s Rams.
Midway through the second quarter, however, Class 6AI’s third-ranked Spartans cleaned up their act, seized the momentum and impressively rolled past fourth-ranked Owasso, 49-14, in front of 21,500 fans at Tulsa University’s H. A. Chapman Stadium last Thursday night.
While finding success in its first game in Class 6AI, the Spartans also extended their 11-man state record winning streak to 50 consecutive games. And secured the first Battle of the ‘Burbs trophy.
Bixby, 1-0, travels to Springdale, Arkansas Friday, Sept. 2, to play Har-Ber’s Wildcats in the second non- district game. Har-Ber opened the season last Thursday, falling 48-26 at Little Rock Parkview.
With only four starters returning on each side of the ball and the early Week Zero start, the Spartans struggled early offensively and defensively. In the first half, Bixby fumbled five times, losing three. At a time when players and coaches could have displayed frustration Bixby stayed the course.
“We faced adversity at the start of the game but I’m glad we overcame it and kept our heads up and kept on grinding,” senior quarterback/linebacker Connor Kirby said afterward. “When just kept working and at the end of the day we got the job done.”
Bixby’s 13th-year head coach Loren Montgomery added, “It wasn’t a clean performance, we’ve got to clean some of those things up. We didn’t play well but it was good to get the win while we work to get better.”
After missing field goal attempts of 25 and 31 yards, Owasso capitalized after recovering Bixby’s second fumble in the first half, taking possession at the Spartan 14. Two plays later, Ram senior quarterback Mason Willingham scored on a one-yard keeper with Jake Adams kicking the conversion for a 7-0 lead with 10:42 left in the second quarter.
Bixby and Owasso exchanged lost fumbles before the Spartans’ Ethan Williams secured a Ram fumble at the OHS 23. The Spartans capitalized this time with senior quarterback Austin Havens, playing against his former team, firing a 13-yard touchdown pass to senior Jakeb Snyder with 7:10 left in the second quarter. The point-after kick failed, leaving Owasso holding a 7-6 lead.
That’s when momentum began to change sidelines. It started with a gritty defensive effort by Bixby. After Owasso drove to the Bixby five, Spartan freshman Cord Nolan recorded his first varsity sack, tackling Willingham for a 10-yard loss on second-and-goal at the five.
Senior defensive back Tyson Williams broke up a Ram pass on third down and the Spartans pressured Willingham into an incompletion on fourth down.
“We got in some bad situations as a team and they got into the red zone on us a couple of times, but wheld them to field goals which they missed, which was a win for us,” Rodney Flowers, Bixby’s defensive coordinator said.
“Our whole front seven is new. Our linebacking corp is strong but a lot of those kids play both ways. For Cord to come in and spell some of those guys and get his first sack was special. These kids played their tails off. Our coaching staff, all of them junior high on up, did a tremendous job considering the little film we had on them.”
Feeding off the defensive stand, Bixby stunned the Rams on the following offensive possession when Kirby broke a tackle while finding daylight down the Spartan sideline, sprinting away from Ram defenders for an 85-yard touchdown. He also ran for a two-point conversion handing BHS a 14-7 lead with 4:02 left before halftime.
“It was nice … it brought me to life,” Kirby said. “I hope I have increased my speed … I worked on it in the offseason and hope it’s helped.”
“Connor’s a big kid but he’s got really sneaky speed,” coach Montgomery noted. “He was able to pull away from some guys.”
Bixby’s defense provided another huge play opening the second half as junior Sam McCormick jumped in front of a Willingham pass in the flat, returning the interception 20 yards for a stunning TD six seconds into the third quarter. Levi Hoffman’s conversion kick made it 21-7.
“We had seen the route they were running and when I saw him go in, I knew he was going back out. I just jumped in there and made a play. It was a little out there, but I was able to grab it. It was awesome and exciting. Just getting that pick and seeing everyone get excited around you … there is no better feeling,” said McCormick, who later ended Bixby’s scoring effort with a 35-yard TD pass reception from Kirby. “We knew we hadn’t played our best half of football, but we knew if we just stayed dialed in it would turn around.”
The next time Bixby touched the ball, it drove 55 yards in eight plays with senior running back/linebacker Jersey Robb scoring from a yard out. Hoffman’s point-after gave BHS a 28-7 lead at 7:36 of the third quarter.
“It felt good getting the yards, but it didn’t feel good how I got them,” Robb said smiling. “It was a slow start but once we got rolling then we felt them breaking. I’m super proud of our defense, we gave up a few shots early, but you have to have a short memory.
“We rallied around each other. Somebody was going to give, and it wasn’t going to be us.”
Bixby wrapped up the opener with a 20-yard TD run by Kirby and McCormick’s TD pass reception, sandwiched around Owasso’s 20-yard scoring pass play from Willingham to Anthony Hills with 10 minutes remaining.
The Spartans’ defense limited Owasso to 377 total offensive yards, 77 on the ground. From midway through the second quarter to the final whistle Bixby pressured Owasso’s offense.
“I thought our defense played really tough the entire game,” coach Montgomery said. “We gave up a
couple of big plays like you’re going to against good players like (Cole) Adams and some of their other guys. We were physical and got some pressure on the quarterback.”
Kason Hatley, a 5-10, 227-pound junior defensive tackle, was one of several Spartans making their first varsity starts. Numerous Spartan newcomers impacted the opener.
“I think we had a little rust at the start, but we stayed at it … and we got better,” Hatley said. “It felt great to play in this atmosphere. But we’re just getting started, we can’t get satisfied.”
NEXT GAME – Bixby’s visit to Springdale Har-Ber Friday starts at 7 p.m. at Wildcat Stadium. This is the first meeting between the two schools. Har-Ber was 3-8 last season and 5-7 in 2020 but went 8-4, losing in the state quarterfinals in 2019.
With the two teams tied at 20-all, Parkview used an 88-yard punt return to break open the season opener played in historic War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock.
Reportedly, the Wildcats were led offensively by Luke Buchanan, a 6-1, 188-pound quarterback; Bliyge Cook, a 5-7 senior wide receiver, and Hudson Brewer, a 6-2, 205-pound senior running back. Buchanan threw two TD passes. Cook caught a 26-yard TD pass and Brewer rushed for 62 yards.
NOTEBOOK – Bixby’s quarterback duo produced in the opener. Kirby ran for two touchdowns and threw for one while producing 279 yards. Havens was 15-of-20 passing for 118 yards and a score. … Owasso’s combination of Willingham and senior wide receiver Cole Adams produced in the first half. Willingham ended with 300 passing yards while Adams caught seven passes for 132 yards in the opening half before being sidelined with a shoulder injury, which according to media reports requires surgery. … Bixby ended with 500 yards total offense.
OPPONENTS SCORES – Bixby opponents results: Sand Springs 35, Sapulpa 21. Southmoore 28, Putnam City North 14. Moore 55, Edmond Memorial 35. Bentonville (Arkansas) 56, Broken Arrow 46.
Muskogee 28, Enid 26. Union 57, Westmoore 10. Jenks 13, Edmond Santa Fe 10.
OPPONENTS SCHEDULE (Sept. 2) – Owasso at Jenks, Norman North at Norman (Sept. 1), Mustang at Southmoore, Ponca City at Enid, Union at Broken Arrow, Yukon at Westmoore (Sept. 1), Moore at Edmond North.