By Nick Snow
STILLWATER, Okla. —
It’s often said that there’s no better place to mend a broken heart than in the comfort of your own home.
And for the Stillwater High School football team, there are definitely some broken hearts to mend.
The Pioneers (1-7, 1-4 in district) are coming off a pair of heartbreakers — the last being the near-miss on a Hail Mary against Sand Springs — and will be playing their second home game in five weeks when they face arch-rival Enid at 7 p.m. Friday at Pioneer Stadium.
“We had two very difficult football games that we feel like they could have gone either way,” Stillwater coach Tucker Barnard said. “I think we could have won those games just as easily as we lost them. It’s heartbreaking for these kids when we keep coming up short, but they’re still fighting and still working.”
But what are they fighting for?
Last week’s loss pretty much assured the Pioneers will be staying home for the playoffs. Even so, Stillwater would like for nothing more than to play spoiler to the Plainsmen.
“I’m excited to take a win from anybody that we can right now,” Barnard said. “We’ve been saying for a couple of weeks that we’re desperate for a win, and we’re playing that way and practicing that way.
“I think it’s a situation where it’s a relief of pressure in a way because we’re not worried about anything else. We’re not worried about the future, we’re not worried about a week from now or two weeks from now. We’re worried about this Friday night and doing everything we can to win.”
Stillwater has done everything but win the last two weeks. The offense continues to improve under quarterback Jon Littell and the defense has held its own at times in both games.
“I think we have got better and better with how we’re playing the game mentally. I think we’re getting better with the way we’re playing emotionally and physically, but now we’ve got to out-execute an opponent,” Barnard said.
Executing better than Enid won’t exactly be easy. The Plainsmen use multiple looks in their offense, which could cause problems for the Stillwater defense.
“They’ve got a lot of formations offensively, and they’re going to try to gain an advantage by our alignment,” Barnard said. “... We’re going to have to be real sound in what we do. We’ve got to get the run game gapped out. They do a good job with one-back sets, two-back sets and three-back sets trying to get the run game going. If they’re able to do that, it can be difficult for us.”
That’s the thing about this year’s Pioneers — they’re kind of use to things being difficult for them.
Perhaps that’s why Barnard isn’t too concerned about the emotional well-being of his team — even on senior night.
“It’s just about focus,” Barnard said. “Quite honestly, that’s something that we’ve struggled with a little bit. We’ve allowed outside situations to affect us. Things that maybe we can’t always control, we’ve allowed to affect us. We’ve got to do a better job of that. We can’t pay attention to the scoreboard or worry about anything other than the play that’s happening in front of us right now.”
And while the familiar sights and sounds inside Pioneer Stadium will be a welcome sight to the road-weary Pioneers, right now they are focused on one thing — getting a win.
“I don’t want to blame any of our issues on anything other than us,” Barnard said. “We’re in a mode of taking full responsibility of the situation we’re in. It will be nice to be home and hopefully we’ll have a great crowd ... but now we’re just focused on taking that next step and getting a win.”