Last year, Choctaw High players tried chirping at Stillwater star wide receiver Anthony Bland after the Pioneers’ first pass attempt of the game fell incomplete.
Choctaw’s plan to get into Bland’s head backfired.
The Princeton University commit torched the Yellowjackets for 220 yards on 12 receptions, leading Stillwater to a 42-22 road victory. Bland said the cornerbacks were good, but they had no help over the top as the safeties moved into the box to stop the powerful Stillwater rushing attack.
Stillwater coach Tucker Barnard wants his players to avoid the talking and just simply play the game this week when Stillwater host Choctaw at 7 p.m. Friday at Pioneer Stadium.
“We need to work really hard not to get into a talking game with them,” Barnard said. “It has been a physical game, it’s been a tough game in the past. If you look back over the last few years – and maybe we pulled away from them last year and maybe the year before, but it’s always really tight and I feel like we go at half feeling like we’re in a six- or seven-point ball game. I haven’t seen a halftime score, but that’s what my memory is doing to me. We need to come out and have a great first half, and get it started off right.”
Choctaw’s plan to stop the run game worked at times, but Qwontrel Walker rushed for 118 yards on 22 carries. Walker didn’t finish the game as he was ejected in the fourth quarter following a second personal foul penalty in the contest.
The second flag came after Walker was tackled in the end zone for a safety. His helmet was nearly turned sideways on the play, but no facemask penalty was called, resulting in Walker yelling an expletive in the direction of an official.
He was suspended for the following game at Lawton. Since that ejection and suspension, Walker changed his mindset. After every touchdown he scores, he hands the ball to the official and celebrates mildly. He said he wants to avoid any more trouble.
“I think he’s just matured a whole lot,” Barnard said. “The deal in that game was something he’d seen in an NFL game and mimicked it a bit. You can’t do that. Qwontrel has really grown up. He’s always been a great football player, but I’m really liking the person he’s growing into.
“He does things real matter-of-factly. That’s how he’s playing the game. I think it suits him well.”
Walker could be key to Friday’s game. His ability to run the ball or his teammates’ ability to create space for him to run not only moves the chains and puts points on the scoreboard, it also opens up space for quarterback Gunnar Gundy to throw all over the field.
Barnard said Walker’s carries and yardage could also be key, because it’s how Del City was able to beat Choctaw 41-20 two weeks ago.
“It was their inside run game and they were able to create a seam and go straight ahead,” Barnard said. “Hopefully, we can do the same thing. It’s what we like to do. If we can get that going, then the passing game gets pretty easy, too.”
In some ways, Choctaw’s defense reminds Barnard of the team that’s knocked Stillwater out of the playoffs the past two years – the No. 1 in Class 6A-II, Bixby.
“It’s similar – not the same structure – but gives me the feel that Bixby has where they have two outside backers that sit out there and try to box everything back in,” Barnard said. “They want to keep you bottled up back there. If they can do that, it will be tough on us. But if we can create some seams and get Qwontrel running north and south, then I think there’s a chance we could have a lot of yards.”
Offensively, the Yellowjackets (3-2 overall, 1-1 district) have scored 49 or more points in three contests. Choctaw quarterback Thad Williams has thrown for 1,497 yards, completing 59.5 percent of his passes.
Williams has thrown 16 touchdowns and eight interceptions this season. His two leading targets are Chase Jackson and Gabe Johnson. Jackson has caught 22 passes for 602 yards and six touchdowns, while Johnson leads the team in receptions with 28 for 406 yards and one touchdowns.
“Choctaw does a good job offensively of throwing it around a bunch,” Barnard said. “They run trips, quads and empty sets. It gives you a lot to work on.”
Stillwater (5-0, 2-0) has intercepted five passes this season, but only three have come from defensive backs. Kobe Holley leads the team with two interceptions. Carter Barnard has the other from the secondary.
Barnard knows his secondary will be tested this week, but he believes in his group.
“I’m as confident as you can be,” Barnard said. “I like our guys. I like what we do and I think we have an opportunity to make it a mess for the quarterback and what he’s looking at. They’ve been pretty good at it, but it’s the first really wide-open offense we’ve looked at this year, so it will be a bit of a change for us.”
Friday’s game will be the first of two-straight home games for the Pioneers. They will host Lawton Oct. 17 before hitting the road for two more home games.
“I am excited about being back home,” Barnard said. “Going on the road to Midwest City is never easy or fun, so I’m glad to have that one behind us. Now, we get two weeks at home.”
Follow Jimmy Gillispie on Twitter @jgillispie_stw for Stillwater High football updates, including live updates from Friday’s game.