By Nick Snow
STILLWATER, Okla. —
Clemson players rub Howard’s Rock for good luck before games. Nebraska does the same to a horseshoe just before they come out onto the field.
Perhaps Stillwater High School football coach Tucker Barnard might be looking to do something similar next season, especially after a season like the last one. After all, it wouldn’t hurt.
Friday’s 30-20 loss to Owasso seemed to be the epitome of what went wrong all season for the Pioneers. Time and time again, Stillwater had its fair share of chances, only to come up a day late and a buck short.
“We can look back at all of these situations, maybe everything outside of Tulsa Union, and we talk about how close we are,” Barnard said. “That’s tough, but sometimes that’s the way it goes. We’ve got to be strong, we’ve got to learn and we’ve got to do everything we can do to be better.”
A lot of coaches say it’s a game of inches, but that was something this Stillwater squad learned the hard way this season. It started the second week of the season against Midwest City, when King Williams fumbled a punt that would have set up a potential game-winning drive.
And from there it only got worse.
A couple of fumbled snaps against Mustang, a pass that bounced off a receiver’s fingers into Bartlesville’s Slade Noric’s hands for a pick-six, a Hail Mary that bounced off at least three Stillwater players against Sand Springs, it all seemed to be the case of bad luck.
Even Friday against Owasso, a clock operator’s sticky fingers and an overly friendly crossbar all seemed to be working against the Pioneers.
“A few inches on the field goal attempt and a few inches on our play right before half, where Jon (Littell) is so close,” Barnard said. “We felt like there was probably time to get a spike and run one last play, but Owasso did a good job of staying on the ground and not getting up and they didn’t get the ball spotted.“
But while all those near-misses meant a disappointing 2-8 season and a 2-5 record in district play, Barnard does give hs team credit for not giving up.
“I’m definitely proud of these guys,” Barnard said. “We’ve been challenging them. It would have been so easy for these guys to quit a long time ago, and they just kept battling. Not even necessarily within this game, but within the season. They could have checked it in a long time ago, but they wanted to win and kept fighting.
“It just shows you the way these guys have battled and the attitude that they have kept. Teams that finish the season with two wins are not supposed to be battling like this at the end. The easy thing would have been for them to start fighting amongst themselves and getting selfish, but they didn’t do that. They just played and fought, and they wanted to be better all the time.”
And while Stillwater’s season came to heartbreaking end for guys seniors like Spencer Parsons, King Williams and Kelby Wickline, who was seen walking off the field on crutches after getting injured in his final game, that heartbreak may be the thing that fuels the Pioneers next season.
“We’ll take a little bit of time off, and then after Thanksgiving break we’ll get going again,” Barnard said. “We’re not going to sit around and cry about this season for very long. We’ll learn from it and we’ll get stronger and start working.”