By Nick Snow
STILLWATER, Okla. —
There’s no need to remind Stillwater High School football coach Tucker Barnard how dangerous Mustang can be — he saw it first-hand last season.
Over the course of a year, that 36-14 loss in Mustang has stuck with the Pioneers. It started what was a downward spiral, the likes of which Stillwater (0-2) still hasn’t recovered from.
Now, Barnard and the Pioneers are hoping to finally buck that trend and snap an eight-game losing streak as Mustang (1-1) makes the return trip to Stillwater for a 7 p.m. kickoff Friday at Pioneer Stadium.
“We feel like last week we let one get away,” Barnard said. “We feel like we could have won that football game. We had opportunities to win that football game, we just need to hold on to the ball a little bit better.
“Week 1, we think we could have won that football game. We lost by two touchdowns, but we found enough things that we could have executed just a little bit better and should have had an opportunity to win that one.”
Stillwater has taken baby steps in the right direction over the first few weeks, but now Barnard is hoping the Pioneers will finally take that big step with district play looming in a week and a half.
“We just have to dig down and get to work,” Barnard said. “There’s no time to wait around and feel sorry for ourselves. We came in on Saturday after losing to Midwest City and got busy on that film, then started working on Mustang that same day. ... One thing about this game is there’s no time to hang around. We have to work and that’s what we’ve done.”
One of the areas Barnard said needed the most work? The red zone offense.
The past two weeks Stillwater’s offense has struggled against McAlester and Midwest City, forcing Barnard to add a new twist to the practice schedule.
“That’s something that we’ve been doing every week,” Barnard said. “We basically put them in a third-and-short situation where we have to stick it in. It’s just about an attitude of getting that ball in the end zone.”
Getting the ball in the end zone is one thing for the Pioneers. Keeping Mustang’s potent offense — led by senior quarterback Frankie Edwards — out of the end zone is another.
The Pioneers have already had their fair share of struggles with dual-threat quarterbacks this season. McAlester’s Dalton Wood ran for 159 yards and two touchdowns, while throwing for 259 yards and five touchdowns in the Pioneers’ season-opening loss.
But Stillwater defensive coordinator Jeremy Hughes is confident those lumps his defense took against the Buffaloes will pay off against the Broncos.
“Mustang is more of a spread, finesse type running game kind of like McAlester,” Hughes said. “But I feel a lot better about it because this will be the second time we’ve seen it. We’re going to feel better about our reads. ... If we can keep him contained and tackle, I think I like our chances.”
Going against a similar offense in practice doesn’t hurt, either.
“It helps a lot because it gives us the reads that they’re going to be giving us in the game,” Stillwater sophomore defensive lineman Cyntrell Carden said. “We can adjust to it and work it the way we want to.”
Even as the Pioneers continue to take baby steps toward the district opener against Ponca City, a win against Mustang could be just the confidence boost Stillwater needs as it continues to work out the kinks.
“Of course everybody’s eyes are on the prize and the prize is winning a district championship or to at least be in the top two in your district so you at least get to host a playoff,” Hughes said. “These first three games are all important and we’d love to win them all and love to be 3-0, we’ve found out some things about ourselves and we’ve learned from them. We’ll find out some more things Friday night — hopefully with a win.”