By Nick Snow
STILLWATER, Okla. —
It’s a little to early to call Friday’s game a must-win for the Stillwater High School football team, but that’s the way coach Tucker Barnard and the Pioneers are approaching their matchup against Booker T. Washington.
“You can’t lose games in the district and still be where you need to be in the playoff picture,” Barnard said. “We need to be in the top two to be in the playoff picture, so we can’t lose again. It makes every week and every game really important.”
Stillwater (3-2, 1-1 in district) comes in licking its wounds from a 58-24 loss to Tulsa Union — literally. Sophomore quarterback Braxton Noble had his left arm in a sling during Wednesday’s practice.
Barnard said he isn’t sure whether Noble will be able to play when the Pioneers kickoff at 7:30 p.m. in Tulsa, but added that he has faith in backup quarterback sophomore Taggart Brown.
“The next man has to step up for us,” Barnard said. “We’ve been battling injuries for about three weeks now. It’s not new. We just keep plugging new guys in and asking them to perform and do their job.”
“Last spring, we talked about how Taggart and Braxton were really pushing each other,” Barnard said. “We’re confident in Taggart and we’ll just have to wait and see. Whoever we have, we’ll send them out there and we’ll go do it.”
Brown says that no matter what he will be ready to take on the Hornets (3-2, 1-1 in district), who are coming off a 24-7 win over Enid.
“It’s going to be a different atmosphere than a home game,” Brown said. “You’re not going to have as many of your fans. I know a lot of people are going to try and go see the game, but we just have to remember that it’s just another game.”
The sophomore said he’s already seen some tape on Washington and, while nerves may play a factor early in the game, having plenty of experience around him should help in solving the speedy Hornets’ defense.
“They have a ton of athletes but so do we,” Brown said. “We have a lot of good receivers. Our running backs are good ... and our offensive line hasn’t given up a sack all year. It’s very encouraging to know that I have time to sit back there in the pocket and keep my eyes down the field instead of worrying about who is going to be around me.”
“I think there’s a lot more pressure because our run game is going to definitely have to be crisp,” Stillwater senior running back Davyn Thompson said. “But I like to embrace that pressure and take that as a challenge to push myself to be the best.”
Brown may be well on his way to figuring out Washington’s defense, but it’s the Hornets’ offense that has been the biggest concern for Barnard.
Like Mustang and McAlester, the Hornets are more of a grind-it-out type of team, using their stable of talented running backs to wear down the defense.
“They’re a tough team with some great players,” Barnard said. “They got their quarterback back last week and they have a couple of great running backs. It’s going to be a challenge for sure.
“We’re going to scheme them up and try to get some guys down in the box to stop the run. They’re really strong. They have a good run game and they can bust a long one on you at any time. We just have to play sound football, know our leverage and just execute.”