By Nick Snow
STILLWATER, Okla. —
Giving up the big play on defense has been a problem for the Stillwater High School football team’s defense all season. It was a problem against Tulsa Union and Booker T. Washington.
Now those big plays have the Pioneers on the outside looking for the district’s last playoff spot following a 35-21 loss to Bartlesville during Homecoming Friday at Pioneer Stadium.
“We don’t control our playoff destiny now,” Stillwater coach Tucker Barnard said. “It might take a miracle now to make us a playoff team. Basically, our situation now is that we can take this one of two ways. We can either dig down and fight and play like a wounded animal that’s cornered or we’ll shut it down and take it to the tank.”
Stillwater had its fair share of chances to put Bartlesville (4-3, 2-2 in district) in the position its in, but too many dropped passes coupled with a pair of long touchdowns from Slade Nordic spelled doom for the Pioneers (3-4, 1-3 in district), who dropped their third straight district game since beating Ponca City in the district opener.
“They were both busted assignments,” Barnard said. “One of them was a busted coverage and the other was a busted alignment. Those are the kinds of things that we can’t keep doing and expect to win football games. We’re not so talented that we can overcome those kind of mistakes and still make stops.”
It wasn’t just the mistakes on defense that cost Stillwater a chance to even its district record. The typically sure hands of the Pioneers’ receiving corp struggled to haul in passes from sophomore quarterback Taggart Brown, who shook of a rough first quarter to complete 13 of 31 passes for 204 yards and three touchdowns. He also threw four interceptions — the last leading to Nordic’s 2-yard run that put the game out of reach at 28-7 late in the third quarter.
“It’s tough, but I’m like coach (Paul) Hix — I’m a perfectionist,” Brown said. “If they don’t catch it, I put that on myself. I know in my head that I need to throw it higher if it’s too low and lower if it’s too high. It’s on me to make those catches easy for them to handle.”
Bartlesville first struck midway through the first quarter when quarterback Stephen Cochran found Garrett Hilger for a 17-yard touchdown pass, giving the Bruins a 7-0 lead. It could have been worse as Brown was picked off twice in the first quarter, but Stillwater’s defense limited the damage.
“This slow start was all me,” Brown said. “Those two interceptions in the first quarter, I should have thrown one of them away and the other I made the wrong read.”
“It’s going to happen,” Barnard said. “You’re quarterback is going to throw interceptions. When you get in situations like we were in tonight where we had to throw the ball and they knew we had to throw the ball, it gets harder. It’s not an easy thing to do.”
That’s when the big blow came. On the second possession of the second quarter, Cochran spotted Nordic for a 80-yard strike. Stillwater answered on its next drive when Brown hit Davyn Thompson with an 11-yard swing pass, but the Pioneers still trailed 14-7 at halftime.
The Pioneers looked poised to rectify the mistakes they made in the first half, but a 12 play, 80-yard drive by Bartlesville — capped off by a 17-yard touchdown pass to Hilger — took away any momentum Stillwater had going into the locker room at halftime.
“That was an 80-yard touchdown drive that took five or six minutes off the clock,” Barnard said. “That’s what I was saying, we can’t give up that kind of yardage just running the football like that. We couldn’t get off the field right there and it made it hard on us.”
Following another long Bartlesville drive ending in a touchdown, Brown hit Prather for a 5-yard score with 17 seconds left in the third quarter to close the gap to 28-14. It didn’t last long as Nordic broke free on the second play from scrimmage for a 74-yard scamper to open the fourth quarter.
Brown and Prather later hooked up in the fourth quarter with Prather splitting the defense for a 39-yard strike for the game’s final score. Prather finished with six catches for 105 yards and two touchdowns.
“It feels good to at least get a couple of touchdowns,” Brown said. “Whenever you throw a touchdown it’s exciting. I think that was one of the things I did pretty well. I just wish I would have thrown a couple more so we would have won.”
They may be on the outside looking in at the playoff picture, but Brown says that even with a short week, he doesn’t expect the team to back down against Sand Springs knowing they need a miracle run to make the playoffs.
“We just have to work extremely hard in practice and on Thursday come out with a burning passion and play as hard as we can,” Brown said. “We can’t worry about the playoffs now. We have to worry about the next game and that’s it.”