By Nick Snow
SAND SPRINGS, Okla. —
Stillwater High school quarterback Jon Littell was about as perfect as he could be, only allowing six out of 21 passes to hit the turf against Sand Springs Friday at Memorial Stadium.
But it’s the last one he’d like to have back the most.
In a game in which defense seemed optional, Littell’s last-second heave toward the end zone bounced off about six players before falling harmlessly to the turf as Stillwater’s hopes of a second win this season fell by the wayside with a 44-41 loss to the Sandites.
“It was crazy,” Littell said. “I think that ball hit about six guys on the way down. It’s just been like that quite a bit lately. We just got to make more plays and get a lot better. Hopefully, those plays will start coming for us.”
For Stillwater coach Tucker Barnard, Friday’s loss was the epitome of everything that has gone wrong this season.
“The only thing left is a win,” Barnard said. “I don’t know if there’s anything left except for that. It seems like we’ve done everything but win up to this point.
“All I know is that we’ve got players fighting. A weaker group might given up and walked away, these guys are working their butts off. The last two weeks we’ve worked harder and played better in practice than we have all year. We just need something to bounce our way.”
The Pioneers (1-7, 1-4 in district) did fight, trading blow for blow with the high-powered Sand Springs offense. A couple even nearly wrestled to the ground with the ball in the game’s final moments.
But even their best fight wasn’t good enough to come away with a win.
“That’s the deal sometimes,” Barnard. “It comes down to one bounce here or there. Or one call one way or another.”
It seemed Barnard knew his team was in for a shootout, opting to go for it on fourth down at the Sand Springs 30-yard line. That proved to be beneficial as Littell found a wide open Brandon Prather for a 30-yard score, giving the Pioneers a 6-0 lead less than two minutes into the game.
It didn’t take long for Sand Springs to answer as the Sandites capped off their own opening drive with Cody Hale’s 30-yard strike to Tra’shad Owens to give Sand Springs a 7-6 lead after the extra point.
And from there, it was off to the races.
“We were out there just having fun as possible,” Littell said. “We’re getting to the point where it’s getting late in the season and we just want to go out with a bang.”
And a bang they did.
Stillwater’s offense continued to light up the scoreboard with incredible numbers throughout most of the first half, coming away with no less than a touchdowns on each drive until halftime. Littell conducted back-to-back-to-back touchdown drives allowing just one pass to hit the turf in the half, throwing for three touchdowns and 111 yards.
But Sand Springs had the answer again. And again. And again.
“We knew what we were in for,” Barnard said. “We knew that we needed a couple of good bounces and a couple of good things to happen.”
Stillwater’s defense rose to the challenge to start the third quarter, making a big stop on fourth down with Sand Springs driving before Littell drove Stillwater the length of the field before finding Spencer Parsons for a 17-yard score with 5:33 left in the third.
Once again, the Pioneers couldn’t shake the Sandites as they answered with Tre Betts’ 3-yard touchdown run.
It looked like Stillwater may have finally broken Sand Springs when King Williams gashed the Sandites for a 67-yard scamper but Sand Springs refused to die as Hale found Jacob Sigmon for an 11-yard strike to tie the game at 41-41.
After Stillwater’s lone failed fourth down attempt, Sand Springs was in prime position to take the lead inside the Pioneer 20-yard line with under a minute to play. But a big sack by Cyntrell Carden made a field goal that much more difficult.
It didn’t matter. On a cold night, Blake Boyes had ice water in his veins, drilling a 39-yard field goal with 38 second left.
Littell did everything he could to move Stillwater into position, picking up a first down on a scamper and finding Williams on the sideline for a 20-yard strike.
But even Littell couldn’t will the Pioneers to victory as the last-ditch Hail Mary attempt rattled off helmets and fell to the turf.
“We just have to keep fighting,” Barnard said. “We know that one of these days the ball is going to bounce our way. I couldn’t be more proud of this group of young men. They did everything they could and more to win the game. Tonight, it just wasn’t our night.”