By Nick Snow
STILLWATER, Okla. —
For one half, everything was going right for the Stillwater High School football team. The offense was clicking, the defense was dominating and even the ball seemed to bounce in favor of the Pioneers.
But like a light switch, all that changed in the second half. And as a result, the lights on Stillwater’s postseason hopes have been turned out following a 41-27 loss to Sand Springs Thursday at Pioneer Stadium.
“You have to give them credit, they made a couple of big plays,” Stillwater coach Tucker Barnard said. “One was just a trick double pass that we bit on and it got us. The other we were in great position and we just didn’t make a play on the ball in the end zone.
“Offensively, we didn’t maintain our drives as well in the second half and we turned the ball over. That’s kind of been our problem so far.”
Sophomore Brandon Prather hauled in nine catches for 198 yards and three touchdowns for Stillwater (3-5, 1-4 in district) in the loss, but it was the Sandites’ passing game that helped Sand Springs (7-1, 4-1 in district) overcome a 13-6 halftime deficit.
“I felt like we came out a little bit too cocky because we started off so good in the first half,” junior King Williams said. “We just didn’t execute right and didn’t play hard enough. We let up too easy.”
Sand Springs’ Cody Hale and Cody Hilderbrandt hooked up for touchdowns twice within the span of a minute — the first an 85-yard strike following an interception — as Sand Springs scored three touchdowns in the span of five minutes in the third quarter.
“That was just a great play,” Barnard said. “We saw it coming earlier in the game, but our back got to the guy and tackled him for a loss. That time, we just didn’t get there in time and he was able to take it the distance.”
Stillwater did show some fight, answering Hilderbrandt’s long touchdown with Taggart Brown’s 44-yard pass to Prather to tie the game at 20-20 with 2:53 left in the third quarter, but 52 seconds later Hale hit Hilderbrandt for a 37-yard score that put Sand Springs up for good.
“I knew we had to come in and make some big plays,” Prather said. “We knew coming in that we had to win and we had to win big. I thought we played really well and like we wanted to win in the first half. It just kind of fell apart in the second half.”
Stillwater jumped out to an early lead with Matheus Barbosa’s 43-yard field goal with 5:01 left in the first quarter before Prather fought off two Sandite defenders for an 83-yard strike to give Stillwater a 10-0 lead after one quarter.
Raymond McLaurin got Sand Springs on the board with a 4-yard run with 1:45 left before halftime, but Barbosa’s 31-yard field goal as the half expired gave Stillwater a 13-6 lead.
“That’s something we practice all the time,” Barnard said. “We had a little bit less time than we would have liked on the clock, but our guys were on the sidelines ready to go.”
“That was a big boost for us,” Prather said. “We felt good, but I guess we just got too excited in the locker room and came out flat in the second half.”
Even with the loss, Barnard said that next week’s game against Enid isn’t necessarily meaningless.
“We know we don’t have anything to play for any more,” Barnard said. “But we still have our Pioneer Pride. We could easily pack it in, but these guys don’t want to lose. They want to win as many games as possible, no matter if they can get to the playoffs or not.”
“We have to tell our seniors to keep their heads up,” Prather said. “We still want to play hard for them. Some of them can boost their stats and maybe even get a scholarship. We want to do everything we can to help them.”