Pioneers resume action with road test at Lawton

Jimmy Gillispie/Stillwater News Press Stillwater High senior running back Qwontrel Walker (1) splits Lawton defenders during last year’s game at Pioneer Stadium. Walker has rushed for nearly 1,000 yards and 15 touchdowns through four games this year. The Pioneers travel to Lawton for this week’s game, which begins at 7 p.m. Friday.

For the second time this fall, the Stillwater High football team will be back on the field after the previous week’s game was canceled because of COVID-19.

Last week’s game cost the Pioneers a Class 6A-II District 1 contest, and a likely chance to improve to 3-0 in district games. Unfortunately, U.S. Grant canceled and the Pioneers were left without a game.

As of Wednesday night, Stillwater was still scheduled to play at 7 p.m. Friday at Lawton. Lawton had to cancel its game last week against Putnam City North, which is tied atop the district standings with Stillwater and Midwest City, which just trails in district points.

“The last specific COVID conversation I had with their coach last week when he said they should be at full speed for us,” Stillwater football coach Tucker Barnard said. “I take that to mean they had some dudes out last week and they couldn’t play. I assume they got everybody back.”

Stillwater (4-0 overall, 2-0 district) began the season 2-0 before it was forced to cancel a state title rematch against Bixby because of the number of COVID-19 cases in Payne County. After the unplanned bye week, Stillwater won its first two district games before another game cancellation.

The Pioneers have lost two home games, but they’re ready to hit the road this week. They will travel to Lawton for the first time in two years.

It took a wild catch by former Pioneer wide receiver Anthony Bland between three defenders on an untimed down for Stillwater to beat Lawton for the first time during Barnard’s now 10-year tenure as coach. SHS won 23-20.

“We had beat them in JV and in ninth grade for a couple years leading up to that, but we couldn’t get over the hump in a varsity game before that,” Barnard said. “We had them on the ropes a couple times, but couldn’t finish the deal. I think they’re a tough team and they’re gritty. Historically, they win, so it’s in their blood and it’s what they expect to do. If you go down there and make many mistakes, you’re going to lose. You’ve got to play good football to beat them.”

Last year, Lawton wast just another victim during Stillwater’s dominant regular season. Stillwater jumped out to a 62-14 lead at halftime before neither team scored in the second half that was sped up with a running clock.

Heading into this year’s matchup, Lawton (3-1, 0-1) hasn’t played since Sept. 25 because it’s been forced to cancel its past two games due to COVID-19. The last time the Wolverines played, they lost a road game at Midwest City, 34-9, to drop its only district game.

Stillwater only missed one week of action, but Barnard isn’t sure how that will affect his team when it travels Friday night.

“To be honest, I am concerned a little bit about it,” Barnard said. “I wish I could sit here and said we’ll be OK and running on all cylinders. It’s hard to say. I know that we’ve had to push the guys in practice this week. I don’t know if it’s getting to us mentally or not. It’s been a little more of a struggle this week than it’s been in the past.”

Both teams will be led offensively by their ground game. Stillwater senior Qwontrel Walker has carried the ball 94 times for 991 yards and 15 touchdowns. He was moved into 11th in the state’s all-time career rushing leaders list.

Through the first three games of the season, Lawton senior Christian Houston carried the ball 80 times for 561 yards and eight touchdowns.

“It seems like they always have a good running back,” Barnard said. “I think that’s partially the skill the kids have and partially the system. We kind of brag on our system here. Their system if very different than ours, but I think they have a great system, too. They do a great job with it.”

Follow Jimmy Gillispie on Twitter @jgillispie_stw for Stillwater High football coverage and live updates from Friday’s game in Lawton.

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