Stillwater High football is about to face its toughest test to open a season in a number of years.
It’s arguably the Pioneers’ most difficult opponent during coach Tucker Barnard’s tenure, which began in 2011.
They will host Edmond Santa Fe, which is ranked No. 4 in Class 6A-I, at 7 p.m. Friday at Pioneer Stadium. Santa Fe is coming off an 8-3 season a year ago which ended in the first round of the playoffs. Meanwhile, Stillwater went 12-1 last year, only losing in the state title game to Bixby.
“If you go all the way back to the opener my first year, we played East Central and I think we lost a tight game,” Barnard said. “That was a tough game my first year, but I think we rolled off eight wins in a row after that. We played McAlester a couple of times, and I think they beat us one of those games. Certainly, on paper, this has to be the toughest opener in quite some time. I think for sure, if you look at the three nondistrict games, it’s a really solid schedule.”
Stillwater last lost a season opener in 2015. It fell to Deer Creek, 31-7, before the Antlers became a district opponent.
In the past four years, the Pioneers have played Edmond Memorial, and won all four games. Memorial has won a combined nine games in those four years, with the most wins – four – coming in 2016.
Meanwhile, Santa Fe has won 28 games in the past four years, qualifying for the playoffs each season. The Wolves will be the first of three tough nondistrict opponents for Stillwater.
The Pioneers will travel to Mustang next week before hosting Bixby in two weeks. All three opponents were playoff teams last year.
“Sometimes, a little humility will do you some good,” Barnard said. “I imagine that we have three opponents who are capable of humbling us. We’re going to give everything we have to make sure that doesn’t happen, but I know that talent level and ability level that we’re going to be facing is really good. It’s going to be a great challenge. I think win, lose or draw in those games, we’re going to learn a lot about ourselves and we’ll be able to use it to make ourselves better. “
First on the slate is Sante Fe, which opened its season last week. The Wolves fell to defending 6A-I state champ Owasso, 48-21, to begin the season. They fell behind 45-7 at halftime before scoring a couple second-half touchdowns.
Stillwater didn’t play a Zero Week game, instead opting for its annual scrimmage against Norman. It was the Pioneers’ only scrimmage, and Barnard was fairly pleased with what he saw, but also admitted there’s plenty to improve upon moving forward.
“It was good to get a little of the rust off,” Barnard said. “We were maybe not great. I’d say we were definitely not in championship form. We’re probably still ahead of a lot of people, honestly. We’re a good football team, so I don’t want it to sound like I’m poor mouthing them. It was good to get out and actually have that competitive action, because it’s been a really long time.
“The best thing I saw is we have some weapons who are back. We have that offensive line, Qwontrel (Walker) and Steven (Brown) and others. Those guys are going to prove to be really dangerous again.”
Did Santa Fe gain an advantage by playing a full game while Stillwater just played a scrimmage last week? Barnard says it might depend on who you ask.
“Honestly, whichever side of it you’re on, you probably claim it as an advantage,” he said. “Santa Fe got the chance to go play game speed and got the chance to kind of feel what that’s like and knock the kinks out a bit more. On our side, Santa Fe didn’t get to come watch us play a game. We got to see them play a game. I’d like to have a game under my belt, for sure, so maybe it’s a slight advantage to them.”
Friday’s contest will be the first of six scheduled home games for the Pioneers this fall. Although the atmosphere in the stands won’t be the same this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Barnard still believes playing at home will give his team an advantage this week.
“Any time you have a tough opponent, it is nice to be at home,” Barnard said. “It’s a comfort level and your crowd. I think that when we have big crowds, that plays into it to a large degree. Hopefully we’ll have something resembling a big crowd with the COVID stuff in place. We’ll see what happens.”
Follow Jimmy Gillispie on Twitter @jgillispie_stw for updates on Stillwater High football and live updates from the game.