– BY MICHAEL KNIGHT
#1 STILLWATER (12-0) VS #2 BIXBY (11-1)
For the second straight year, Bixby and Stillwater will meet up in the playoffs. However, last year’s meeting was in the first round while this year they’re playing for the gold ball. Stillwater is certainly the new kid on the block, making their first title game appearance since the 70’s and Bixby now in their fifth straight. The Pioneers are looking to shake up the 6A-D2 foundation and complete the perfect season.
The Pioneers came into the 2018 season with high expectations. This is a program that hadn’t won a playoff game since 2008 but none of that mattered. The Pioneers returned plenty of talented players on both sides of the ball and they knew that 2018 had the chance to be a very special season for the Pioneers. They opened up the season with three 6A-D1 opponents in their non-district schedule. They would beat up on Edmond Memorial, Norman North and Southmoore to start the year 3-0. However, none of those three teams tested Stillwater and none of them would go on to be playoff teams. After beating Deer Creek handily, a showdown with Midwest City was on the horizon. In late September, the Pioneers dominated Midwest City from the opening kick with a 31-13 victory. Any questions about how serious Stillwater was as a contender was answered that night. Then the Pioneers would hit some adversity. Star running back Qwontrel Walker would get ejected the following week in their win over Choctaw, forcing him to miss the next game against Lawton. Without Walker, the Pioneers went on the road and stunned Lawton 23-20 on an untimed down pass from Gunnar Gundy to Anthony Bland to win. They would wrap up the season with shutout wins over Putnam West and Putnam Original and a runaway win over Del City with a stellar fourth quarter comeback. After blowing out Muskogee in the first round, the Pioneers would need to rally to beat defending champion Booker T Washington in the semifinals. They did just that with a 38-28 win, setting up a title showdown with Bixby and a perfect season on the line.
Bixby opened the 2018 season in a somewhat different role. Before the year began, the talk was centered around Booker T Washington and upstart Stillwater. Midwest City was getting love to with star quarterback Preston Colbert returning. Despite making four straight title games, Bixby was flying somewhat under the radar. It wouldn’t take very long for people to wake up and see the Spartans were just as dangerous as ever. Bixby’s only blemish on the schedule would come in week zero to rival Jenks. The Trojans would beat Bixby 28-14 behind a stellar rushing attack. The Spartans wouldn’t lose the rest of the way. They beat Mansfield Timberview in a shootout and then the defense hit a new gear. They followed the shootout with shutout wins over Putnam City and Sapulpa and then came the showdown with defending champion Booker T Washington. The Spartans would hold the Hornets to 7 points and would put 21 up on the scoreboard to avenge last year’s state title loss. Following the win over Booker T, the Spartans would win five straight to close out the regular season, giving up a total of just 47 points in those final five games. They opened up the playoffs with a familiar foe. They would face Lawton for the fourth time in their last five trips to the playoffs. The Spartans would improve to 4-0 against the Wolverines during that stretch after blowing them out 70-14. Then came another familiar opponent with Midwest City in the semifinals. The Spartans beat the Bombers by two points last year and they would play another close one this year. In the end, it was Bixby edging out Colbert and the Bombers with a 24-21 win to punch their ticket to their fifth consecutive state championship game.
Bixby has several young players that show a bright future but we are so impressed by the emergence of a young sophomore in Mason Williams. The young Bixby QB has thrown for 30 touchdowns with only 4 interceptions on the season. Bixby continues to be one of the top passing offenses in the state despite losing some really good QB’s to graduation recently. Williams definitely has a leg up compared to an average sophomore playing QB. He has one of the best junior receivers in the state with Brennan Presley. The Spartans have gotten creative with how they use their junior playmaker this season. He’s been their deep threat at wide receiver and has also been a shutdown corner. However, he’s also had an impact in the running game and in a variety of different ways. Presley is one of the best “both ways” guys in Oklahoma right now, playing multiple positions on both sides of the ball. Another player that has been making an impact on both sides of the ball is senior Cade Cavender. The senior is coming off one of the best games he’s had in his career. When the Bixby rushing attack struggled, it was Cavender who stepped in and got things rolling in the semifinals. Similar to Presley, Cavender is a threat at receiver as well as on the defensive side of the ball.
While Bixby has their share of young playmakers, Stillwater’s future is now. The Pioneers have a big three on the offensive side of the ball that make them a serious threat this year, but for the next few seasons to come. It all starts under center with the quarterback. Junior QB Gunnar Gundy has made a significant jump from last year to this year. He’s not going to wow you with video game-like passing numbers. What he is going to do is take care of the ball and basically be an extension of the coaching staff on the field. While Gundy doesn’t have insane numbers, those numbers have greatly improved this season. One big reason for that has been the addition of junior wide receiver Anthony Bland. The move in from California immediately stepped in and became the deep ball threat that Stillwater needed to be able to stretch the field offensively. Bland has had a breakout season for the Pioneers but anyone who watched what he did in California as a sophomore saw this type of production coming. The final piece to the big three is sophomore running back Qwontrel Walker. The sophomore is rewriting the record book already at Stillwater. He simply knows how to get into the end zone and is one of the best in the state at doing so.
Bixby and Stillwater will be meeting for the fifth time ever but these two programs are very familiar with one another. The Pioneers and Spartans were district opponents from 2010-2011 and they would split that brief series. They would next meet in the 2014 first round. Bixby would blow out Stillwater on their way to their first of three consecutive state championships. Last year, they would meet again in the first round, this time Bixby won 41-14 on their way to another state title game appearance.
Bixby: What a difference a split makes. Since Class 6A started having two divisions in 2014, Bixby has made it to the state championship game every season. They’re playing in their fifth consecutive state title game, having won the first three gold balls and settling for silver last year after losing to Booker T Washington. The Spartans became a power once 6A was split. Prior to the split, the Spartans had made it to the state title game on seven occasions and had to settle for silver each time. They’re currently 3-8 all time in title games.
Stillwater: Bixby certainly has the edge in this department as the Spartans have become regulars in the state championship game. For Stillwater, they’re playing for their first state championship since 1977, and have made it to the title game for the fifth time in school history. They would lose the ’77 title to Duncan. The Pioneers would make back to back state title appearances in 1967 and 1968. They would beat Okmulgee in ’67 for their only gold ball in school history. The first championship appearance came in 1963.
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