By Nick Snow
BARTLESVILLE, Okla. —
All week, Stillwater coach Tucker Barnard asked his team to play a complete 48 minutes against Bartlesville.
For 43 of those minutes Thursday, Stillwater played about as well as Barnard had hoped. It’s the final five Barnard might like to have back.
Stillwater quarterback Jon Littell was intercepted three times over the final five minutes, the first a 57-yard touchdown return by Bartlesville defensive back Slade Nordic, as the Bruins defeated the Pioneers 31-6 Thursday.
“At that point, we were kind of in desperation mode,” Barnard said. “I don’t put that on Jon. We had some protection issues. We had some busted route issues.”
Those three interceptions may have been the deciding factor for Stillwater (1-6, 1-3 in district), but they were far from the norm.
From special teams to passing struggles to the occasional defensive lapse, both teams seemed out of sync. It was opportune timing that doomed the Pioneers.
“It’s not completely one person’s fault,” Stillwater junior defensive lineman Dayton Campbell said. “It’s a team sport, so it’s a team effort. And we just didn’t execute as a team.”
Bartlesville struck first on its opening drive, driving nearly the entire length of the field before the Stillwater defense buckled down and forced the Bruins to settle for a 28-yard field goal by Henry Cone.
After both offenses struggled to get much going offensively, Stillwater had a chance to even the score thanks to a 57-yard run by King Williams, but with 7:14 left in the second Zach Bryant’s 35-yard field goal sailed wide left.
Even after the miss, Stillwater’s defense continued to bail out the Pioneers. Colton Penrod tried to scramble for the first down on fourth-and -11 inside the Pioneer 30-yard line, only to be stuffed a yard short, giving the ball back to the Pioneers with 4:54 left in the half.
“That was one of our biggest stops,” Campbell said. “It really got us a lot of momentum for offense. The offense depends on the defense and the defense depends on the offense, so that was a really big stop that we really needed.”
The Pioneers managed to put together a drive late in the half still trailing 3-0, driving all the way to the Bartlesville 12-yard line. But facing a fourth-and-8 with two seconds left, Barnard opted to give Bryant another chance.
Bryant had everything lined up perfectly, but once again couldn’t convert as a bad hold caused the sophomore to hit the post.
“That’s tough because it becomes a confidence issue,” Barnard said. “One of those is not on him. I’m not sure if it was the snap or the hold, but the ball didn’t get down. Zach’s doing a good job. He’s just got to keep working and stay confident.”
After nearly giving up the lead at halftime, Bartlesville had an answer in the third quarter. On the fifth play from scrimmage, Penrod hit Nordic for a 48-yard score, extending Bartlesville’s lead to 10-0 two minutes in the second half.
But this time, Stillwater had the answer.
Littell orchestrated a long drive — hitting guys like Will Fowler and Brandon Prather for big gains. That coupled with Cameron Mayberry’s ability to keep the chains moving by bulling through the Bartlesville line allowed Littell to score from 9 yards out. After a botched extra point hit the crossbar, Stillwater trailed 10-6 after three quarters.
“We did some things well there,” Barnard said. “We ran the football well most of the night. ... When we were in front of the chains we were pretty good, but when we were behind them, we struggled.”
Even early in the fourth it looked like Stillwater might pull off the win as the defense continued to pressure Penrod into ill-advised throws and the offense kept rolling.
But all that changed once Nordic picked off Littell’s tipped pass.
From there, everything seemed like a bad reoccurring dream as Bartlesville picked Littell off two more times with Bruins’ running back Jarron Hilger icing the game with a pair of 1-yard runs late.
“(Littell) just got caught in the heat of the moment,” Campbell said. “He got worked up and threw one interception and that just led to the others.”
Littell completed 10 of 26 passes for 117 yards and also rushed 17 times for 56 yards. Mayberry finished with 62 yards on 15 carries, while Williams tallied 69 yards on just eight carries.
Prather led all receivers with three catches for 46 yards, while Fowler had three catches for 36 yards and Spencer Parsons had three catches for 32 yards.