By Nick Snow
STILLWATER, Okla. —
A game that started with a bang for the Stillwater High School football team ended with a flash of the wrong kind as the Pioneers couldn’t quite keep pace with Class 5A No. 3 McAlester in a 47-34 season-opening loss Friday at Pioneer Stadium.
Dalton Wood’s 64-yard scamper on a quarterback read with 5:04 left proved to be the back-breaker in a game full of mistakes and big plays.
“We had a lot of missed opportunities,” Stillwater coach Tucker Barnard said. “There were so many things that we could point to in this football game. Some of them are coach’s mistakes, some of them are player’s mistakes, but we had a lot of mistakes.”
After knocking Wood out of last year’s game, the junior signal-caller made up for lost time by throwing for 259 yards and five touchdowns on 23 of 38 passing. He also ran the ball 20 times for 159 yards, yet Stillwater managed to stay in the game with big plays of its own.
“Overall, I think we did pretty well,” Stillwater junior receiver Brandon Prather said. “We did a lot better than everybody thought we should, but deep down I really think that was our game and we should have won.”
The big play came early and often for the Pioneers as Prather returned the opening kickoff 89 yards for a score before a botched extra point gave Stillwater a 6-0 lead 14 seconds into the game.
“I wasn’t expecting them to kick it to me,” Prather said. “It was really nice. I thought we had big momentum after that, but unfortunately they drove right down the field and scored right back.”
That’s the way it went all night for the Pioneers. Each time they’d get a lead, McAlester (1-0) would find ways to neutralize that momentum, as was the case on the Buffaloes’ opening drive. Aided by a pair of Stillwater penalties, McAlester put together a 13-play, 80-yard drive capped off with Dalton Wood’s 19-yard strike to Jerome Smith and an extra point.
“We’ve got to be tougher for one thing,” Barnard said. “We felt like we were all over them. We knew based on formations and alignments what they were running. Our players knew and our coaches knew, but we still weren’t stopping them.”
It looked like McAlester might extend its lead, driving deep into Pioneer territory before Cameron Mayberry intercepted a pass, taking it to the 16-yard line. One play later, Braxton Noble scampered into the end zone to give Stillwater a 13-7 lead after one quarter.
“We felt like things were going pretty well at that point,” Prather said. “It’s really tough when you give up a big drive and you’ve got coaches screaming in your ear, but we just went out there and made a couple of big plays.”
The back-and-forth battled continued in the second quarter as Wood scored from a yard out to start the second quarter.
Less than two minutes after McAlester took the lead, the Pioneer offense was back at it. Aided by a long swing pass to Marlon McDonald, Noble found Jordan Brown for a 26-yard touchdown to cap off a five-play, 62-yard drive to give the Pioneers a 20-14 lead.
That’s when Wood and McAlester started to take control.
Wood hit Smith for a second time — this one for 30 yards to retake the lead with 8:13 left in the half. The Buffaloes then capitalized on a missed field goal, driving 80 yards in six plays, including a 46-yard pass from Wood to Caden Pratt to extend the lead to 28-20.
Stillwater had a chance to cut into the lead, driving deep into McAlester territory before watching the scoring opportunity slip through their hands — literally — as Noble fumbled while scrambling. From there McAlester was able to run out the clock and take a 28-20 lead at halftime.
“I don’t think it was jitters because we had been preparing for this for a while,” Prather said. “We just weren’t executing and that’s what happens when you’re not executing, you get turnovers and fumble the ball.”
McAlester took the opening kickoff in the third quarter and drove 76 yards before Wood found Cade Harkins for a 36-yard score. Stillwater managed to block the extra point, keeping the game within two scores.
That blocked kick seemed to ignite the Stillwater offense as the Pioneers put together a nine-play drive before Noble found Prather for a 20-yard strike to close the gap to 34-27 with 6:54 left in the third quarter.
Momentum continued to swing in favor of the Pioneers as C.J. Citizen’s interception in Stillwater territory ignited the Stillwater bench. Seven plays later, Noble found Spencer Parsons, who fought off a pair of defenders en route to the end zone, tying the game at 34-34 with 17 seconds left in the third quarter.
But in the fourth quarter, the Pioneers’ defense just seemed to run out of gas.
“It turned into a cramp-fest on both sides,” Barnard said. “There were so many plays run tonight on both sides of the ball and so many clock stoppages because of the incomplete passes and stuff. We just ran a ton of plays. … I don’t know if you’d say we ran out of gas because the mistakes we were making at the end, we were making in the beginning.”
Mason Bumphus pulled down a one-handed grab with 10:10 left in the third to give McAlester the lead back, ending a string of 14 unanswered points.
After forcing the Buffaloes to punt on their next possession, Barnard opted to punt after a three-and-out, hoping his defense would hold.
It didn’t as Wood split the defense, racing 63 yards untouched on the first play from scrimmage.
“I made a bad call on the fourth down and punted,” Barnard said. “It put us in a base defense and they ran the ball and got a touchdown. That kind of stuff can’t happen.”
Noble finished the game going 15 of 30, passing for 212 yards and three touchdowns. He also had three interceptions and ran the ball eight times for 36 yards.
Marlon McDonald led the rushing attack carrying the ball 13 times for 55 yards, while Spencer Parson had three catches for 62 yards and a touchdown. Prather finished with five catches for 50 yards and a score, while Jordan Brown had four catches for 48 yards and a touchdown in his Pioneer debut.
And while the loss of the first game might still a little Saturday morning, Prather said the team is prepared to move on and get ready for next week’s trip to Midwest City, which was a 3-0 winner over Edmond Santa Fe.
“We’re definitely putting this one behind us,” Prather said. “This game doesn’t count for anything in our conference, so we have to bounce back and get ready for Midwest City. That’s where it starts counting — next week.”