Although the Stillwater High football team’s opponent this week has an unusual losing record, Tucker Barnard isn’t taking anything for granted.
He traveled to Lawton last week – one day before his Pioneers routed Deer Creek for homecoming – to watch the Wolverines host Midwest City. In the past few years, it’s often been the game that decides the Class 6A-II District 1 champion.
Midwest City defeated Lawton, 23-7, becoming one of four teams to begin the district season with a 1-0 record. The Bombers and Wolverines aren’t expected to compete for the district title, as Stillwater and Del City are the favorites this fall, but Barnard was impressed with what he saw, especially on one side of the ball.
“I took away that the defense is pretty good and the offense is trying to find its way,” Barnard said. “It’s a first-year coordinator for them and obviously a first-year quarterback, plus I think they had about 30 seniors on the team last year. They have a lot of holes to fill. I think in the end, they’ll be just fine, but I feel like we have a chance to do some things defensively against them that could cause them quite a bit of trouble.”
In the other district contests, Del City beat Choctaw and Putnam City defeated Putnam City West. Despite the loss, Choctaw is expected to be one of the teams, along with Lawton and Deer Creek that will battle for the two remaining playoff spots behind Stillwater and Del City.
The Pioneers (4-0) begin a key three-game stretch this week. They travel to Midwest City on Friday for a 7 p.m. kickoff before returning home the next two weeks to host Choctaw and Lawton. Those three opponents have often been the district representatives in the playoffs until Del City was added last year, so Barnard knows the importance of these three games before back-to-back road games against PC and PC West.
“That’s been the playoff set of teams for several years now,” Barnard said. “It kind of always comes down to that group, so they are important games. I like the way the schedule is set up. We’re able to win those first three and then get into district play and we knew Deer Creek was going to be a little tougher last week.
“I think it steps up this week with Midwest City, especially on defense. Midwest City is really solid. They’re good up front – big, physical and fast, so we’ll have a lot of challenges there.”
The Bombers (1-3) allowed only 19 points to Muskogee, which is unbeaten through four games, in a loss two weeks ago. The previous week, they were blanked by Class 5A powerhouse Carl Albert, 31-0.
Those 31 points were the fewest Carl Albert has scored all season. The Titans hung 49 points on Del City the next week before scoring 40 and 63 in the next two contests, respectively.
Offensively, Midwest City’s 23 points last week were its highest total of the season. The Bombers are averaging 14 points a game through four contests.
“Offensively, Midwest City is struggling a little bit. I think they’ve played three quarterbacks. Last week against Lawton, they started a ninth-grader and he led them to their first win. I feel like what we do defensively will make it difficult for him to throw the ball against us. I just don’t think he’s seen anything like what we’ll throw at him in the secondary.
“They’ve got two or three tailbacks who are almost indistinguishable to me. They’re all good, but all smaller and fast. I think we can cause them some problems with our defense. I’m not trying to say it’s going to be a defensive battle. I think we’ll have success on offense, but I do think it’s the best defense we’ve faced.”
Meanwhile, Stillwater is averaging 52.75 points per game this season, and haven’t scored less than 42 points in a single game. Leading the way has been senior quarterback Gunnar Gundy, who completed 18 of 19 passes for 335 yards and five touchdowns last week.
Gundy has two favorite targets in senior Anthony Bland and junior Steven Brown. Bland, a Princeton University commit, leads Stillwater with 33 receptions for 474 yards and seven touchdowns.
However, Brown has nearly equaled Bland in receiving yards after posting 204 last week. Brown has caught 19 passes for 450 yards and eight touchdowns this season.
“The other thing that’s neat is we don’t have to flip them sides,” Barnard said. “Anthony started the season on the two receiver side and Steven was the single. Anthony played the single last year. Now, as Steven has gotten more and more comfortable with the offense to where he can play both sides, we can move in and out of that alignment with ease.
“You can’t just know defensively that you’ll have Anthony on the two receiver side or Steven by himself. Defenses have to pay attention. If they’re trying to match up to us, that will cause them a bit more problems.”
The Pioneers’ rushing game with junior tailback Qwontrel Walker hasn’t made as many headlines, but he’s averaging more than 150 yards per game. He’s had less than 20 carries in the past three games, which is below his average through his first two years as the starting running back.
Yet, he doesn’t seem bothered by the lower production numbers. He said after last week’s game he enjoys watching his teammates, and all he cares about is winning.
“That’s what he’s said to us, too,” Barnard said. “He hasn’t shown any bother with the fact that he’s not getting a bunch of carries, bunch or yards or touchdowns. I think we’ve got a lot of guys right now who are working on the mentality of this is about winning our last game. We’ve got a lot of development to do to get there, but in the end, we want to win our last game.”
Follow Jimmy Gillispie on Twitter @jgillispie_stw for Stillwater High football updates and live updates from Friday’s game at Midwest City.