The goal for Stephen Nixon and his teammates was a simple one.
Memorial had lost in the first round of the playoffs in consecutive seasons, and the junior running back did not want to be a part of a third straight early exit.
Nixon helped make sure the season did not end Friday night, rushing for 156 yards and three touchdowns as the seventh-ranked Spartans advanced in the Sunset Region playoffs with a 35-14 road victory over No. 5 Spring Valley.
“It’s a big win,” he said. “We haven’t been past the first round in three years, so this is a huge win for us.”
Nixon was part of a dominant ground game for Cimarron.
Zach Barbara added 98 yards and two touchdowns, and James Poole gained 61 yards.
The key to the victory was “establishing the run game,” Barbara said. “We’ve always been a running team, so it was important to get that going.”
Cimarron (7-4) controlled the ball for nearly 16 minutes in the first half but led only 14-6 at the break.
All that time on the field might have worn down the Grizzlies’ defense.
The Spartans ran just eight plays in the third quarter, all on the ground, but gained 179 yards and scored three times.
In that decisive period, Nixon had 100 yards on just five carries, including touchdown runs of 68 and 15 yards. Barbara carried twice in the period, but one went for a 73-yard score.
“They started dying out on us because we kept hitting them,” Barbara said of the Spring Valley defense. “That’s what our linemen are trained to do.”
Cimarron coach Rod Vollan was pleased with the effort.
“I think our plugging away did play a role in some second-half fatigue,” he said. “(Spring Valley is) a good football team. It was just one of those night’s that we played really well.”
Spring Valley (8-2) stayed close early thanks to a big game from its star running back, Jacques Adams.
Playing in his final high school game, the senior ran for 159 yards. His 76-yard touchdown early in the second quarter would have tied the game if not for an errant snap on the extra point.
The Spartans came right back down the field, however, and answered with a 1-yard plunge by Nixon.
The victory gives Cimarron a new goal: winning a rematch against the area’s top team, Palo Verde. The Panthers defeated the Spartans on Oct. 3, but it was by far the closest game of the season for unbeaten Palo Verde.
Cimarron dropped that first meeting 17-14 in overtime, but Barbara said his teammates are ready for another chance at the Panthers.
“There’s a big motivation for us to play against Palo Verde,” he said. “We barely lost last time, so we are wanting to get another chance.”