By Nick Snow
STILLWATER, Okla. —
Sometimes it’s the little things that make a difference.
A year after being shut out by Tulsa Union’s defense, Stillwater managed to get on the scoreboard — just not enough as the Redskins pounded the Pioneers 58-24 Friday at Pioneer Stadium.
“We knew that Union was good,” Stillwater coach Tucker Barnard said. “We had a couple of third-down situations that we couldn’t get out and couldn’t get off the field. That’s a credit to them. They did a great job. They found open guys and got the ball out and got it to them quickly. But I’m proud of our guys. They continued to fight through all four quarters, and that’s all you can ask for in a game like this.”
There were some flashes of brilliance from the Pioneers (3-2, 1-1 in district) at times. Senior Davyn Thompson had a 50-yard run for Stillwater’s first touchdown. Sophomore Cameron Mayberry had a 42-yard run on a fake punt late in the third quarter that eventually led to a 39-yard touchdown pass from sophomore Braxton Noble to Thompson.
But in the end, Union (3-2, 1-1 in district) had just too much speed and too much size for the inexperienced Stillwater squad.
“They’re a very talented team, no doubt about it,” Barnard said. “They have a tremendous bunch of athletes that can beat you at any time. We saw that in tonight’s game. ... It’s really difficult for our defenders when they’re going up against receivers that are tall, have great ball skills and can jump. It just takes a little separation — and sometimes even no separation — and they can create a big play.”
Union jumped out to a 21-0 lead by the end of the first quarter, thanks to a pair of touchdown runs from Justin Silmon before senior Matheus Barbosa’s 44-yard field goal got Stillwater on the board for the first time in five quarters against the Redskins.
The Pioneers continued to build momentum as Thompson broke free down Stillwater’s sideline for a 50-yard scamper, cutting the lead to 21-10 with the extra point.
“I just saw a big hole and then I saw the safety come up,” Thompson said. “I just gave him a little move and I was like, ‘No way, I’m not getting caught.’”
That momentum was short-lived as Union quarterback Hunter Atyia found Jeffery Mead for a 50-yard touchdown on the Redskins’ ensuing possession.
“That’s what a great football team does — they respond quickly,” Barnard said. “If we give them a little jab, then they would come out and respond quickly. It’s just a sign of a really good football team and that’s what we’re trying to get.”
Stillwater added one more score before halftime as Noble found Thompson for a 6-yard score, capping off a 12-play, 70-yard drive that spanned 4:15, but Stillwater trailed 38-17 as the two teams headed into the locker room.
“I thought we played really well in the second quarter,” Barnard said. “We got a couple of good stops and we were able to put some points on the board. That will be something good to build on because it showed that we can play with them. We just need to extend that to all four quarters.”
Union added two more touchdowns in the third before Noble hit Thompson for a 39-yard touchdown with 46 seconds left in the quarter. The score was aided by Mayberry’s 42-yard run on fourth-and-6 from Stillwater’s 24-yard line.
“We had some stuff that we had drawn up on the sidelines,” Barnard said. “We were just waiting for the right time to use it. We went for it a couple of times on fourth down and we had some success, while other times we struggled. But when you’re playing a team like Union, field position isn’t really an issue.”
Thompson finished with 14 carries for 109 yards and a touchdown and was the leading receiver with 3 catches for 97 yards and two touchdowns. Noble also completed 11 of 21 passes for 151 yards and two touchdowns.
“It feels real great (to score three touchdowns) because our best players last year were held to zero points,” Thompson said. “I feel like it’s cool that I got to score on them three times. Not many people can say that.”
Despite giving up one last touchdown to Union at the start of the fourth quarter, Stillwater continued to fight and forced three fumbles late — something Barnard hopes to use in preparation for next week’s game at Booker T. Washington.
“I think the big thing that we can take away from this game is that we can compete with anybody,” Thompson said. “We made a couple of little mistakes and those turned into big plays. We just have to come back and practice hard. Our season isn’t over because we lost. We’re still aiming to win a district championship.”