By Nick Snow
STILLWATER, Okla. —
It doesn’t take much for Stillwater High School football coach Tucker Barnard to remember last year’s game against Owasso.
“It was a fun ball game,” Barnard said. “There was a lot on the line. We were both playing for a district championship. If Owasso won the game, they were going to win the district and the same went for us. We were pretty much guaranteed to at least end in a tie if not win it.”
As it turns out Stillwater’s 31-28 win did help the Pioneers share the title with Tulsa Union. And while district title hopes have long since passed for Stillwater (3-6, 1-5 in district) this season, the Pioneers have the chance to play spoiler once again to Class 6A No. 3 Owasso’s district title hopes when they take on the Rams (7-2, 6-0 in district) at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Pioneer Stadium.
“I’m pretty sure they’re going to overlook us just like most big schools like that would do,” Stillwater senior cornerback Chuck Neal said. “They’re seeing us as, ‘Oh, Stillwater is just going to lay down and let us walk all over them.’ But I’m looking at it and saying, ‘It’s upset time.’”
To do so, Stillwater will have to find a way to stop Owasso’s potent running game.
“(Owasso) has a lot of team speed,” Barnard said. “They run kind of a zone read offensive scheme. They have a great quarterback and a great running back, and they make it really tough on defenses. They have the speed and athleticism to score in one play, but they also can wear you down by pounding you for four or five yards a pop.”
“We’ve gone back to taking down and tackling this week,” Neal said. “We’ve been a lot more physical in getting off our blocks. I think we’re going to be a different team this week. I think we’re going to be more aggressive.”
Stopping Owasso won’t exactly be easy. Injuries have plagued Stillwater’s linebackers and secondary, forcing Barnard to plug some new players into those positions.
“We’ve been fighting injuries and we still have several guys who aren’t practicing and aren’t playing,” Barnard said. “But we’re going to do everything we can do to win the football game. Whatever that means — if we’re playing young guys or old guys or pulling people out of the stands — we’re going to do whatever we need to do to win the football game.
“With all the injuries, it’s just kind of next man up. We just keep moving new guys in and that’s really all we can do. We just have to put our head down and keep fighting.”
The Pioneers may be limping into Friday’s game on a five-game losing streak and Owasso is on its way to dethroning a Union team that has won 14 straight district titles, but none of that concerns Barnard.
“We know how good they are and what their ranking means,” Barnard said. “I’m not sure if there’s two teams better than them — I don’t know who they are right now. Owasso’s pretty good, but there’s a reason you play. There’s upsets every week. (In college football) every Saturday somebody gets upset, so you kind of figure, why can’t it happen to us?”
“That would be amazing to end my senior year by beating the No. 3 team in the state,” Neal said.
For seniors like Neal, an upset of Owasso would be the cherry on top of an otherwise disappointing senior year for the Pioneers.
“It’s their last opportunity to put their stamp on Stillwater football,” Barnard said. “They have one more chance to go out, play hard and make their familes proud and their school proud of the work that they’ve put in. The most important thing and the best thing that motivates them is to try and win that football game against a very good opponent.”