By Nick Snow
STILLWATER, Okla. —
It’s hard to imagine that the calendar has just turned to October, yet the Stillwater High School football team is fighting for its playoff life.
But that’s exactly the scenario the Pioneers (1-4, 1-1 in district) face when they host Booker T. Washington (3-2, 1-1 in district) Friday at Pioneer Stadium.
In what has become a log jam in Class 6A District 1, Friday’s game could very well determine who moves on to the playoffs and who stays home in November.
“It’s hugely important,” Tucker Barnard said. “This is the most important game of our season, right now. We’re fighting for playoff future and I hope that we play like we’re fighting. I hope we play like we’re desperate for a win.”
Wins have been hard to come by for the Pioneers this season. They’ve had their chances, but it’s been one mistake after another that ultimately spelled doom.
Now fresh off a loss to Union — a loss that saw some glimpses of progress — the Pioneers are hoping to put those early struggles behind them and focus on what has become a win-at-all-costs game.
“We had moments on Friday where we were playing as well as we have played,” Barnard said “We’ve got to extend those moments. It’s just consistency. It’s a mental endurance and a physical endurance to continue doing our job. Even when something goes wrong and adversity hits, we’ve got to stay focused on the job in front of us.
“We certainly felt like we had periods where we played really well. I think where we carry that over is it’s just a confidence level for our guys to know that they’re capable. Once we know that we can, then we have to start doing it more often for longer.”
The Pioneers have been taking those baby steps over the first five games. Now, Barnard is hoping his team will finally make real strides toward progress.
“We’re approaching it like we have a job to do,” Barnard said. “We have to execute better. We didn’t execute very well last week and got beat and we have to execute better if we want to win.”
Execution will be a big factor Friday if Stillwater wants to remain in the playoff hunt. Washington may be the most athletic team the Pioneers face outside of Union this season and have the ability to turn mistakes into game-changing plays.
“They’re good. I mean they are good,” Barnard said. “They’ve got several players that if people haven’t heard of yet, they’re going to hear of because they’re going to play Division I football in the state and even in this town. There’s some really good football players over there. The coaches have obviously done a heck of a job getting those guys ready and getting them prepared each week. As talented as they are and as well-coached as they are, it’s going to be a great, great challenge.”
But having the best athletes doesn’t necessarily guarantee a win for the Hornets. Barnard knows that emotions, physical play and even home field can play into a game.
And he’s not about to count his Pioneers out just yet.
“(Tuesday) was one of the best practices of the season so far,” Barnard said. “There was a lot of energy. We played hard, had fun and the guys were excited. We had a great practice and hopefully we can build on that and do the same thing again (Wednesday and Thursday).”
A loss doesn’t necessarily eliminate Stillwater from the playoff contention, but it certainly hurts the Pioneers’ chances.
And who knows, maybe that win-or-go-home mentality may be just the motivation Stillwater needs to get the ball rolling.
“We’ve got motivation occurring right now,” Barnard said. “We’re a 1-4 football team and we’re fighting for our season. That’s all that matters and is important to us.”