The last time Stillwater High football played Putnam City West on the road, the Pioneers left with a three-point loss in a low-scoring contest.
It was 2016 and the 10-7 loss was in the middle of a three-game losing skid during a 5-6 season for the Pioneers. SHS senior quarterback Gunnar Gundy was an undersized freshman who stood on the sideline as Stillwater went for the win on the final play of the game, but was stuffed short of the goal line.
“They had some good players,” SHS coach Tucker Barnard said. “I remember that game very well. They caught a hitch on our sideline that ended up going for about 70 yards for a touchdown to take the lead on us. We struggled mightily that night.”
That game three years ago was a long time ago, and both teams have gone in opposite directions since the contest.
PC West split its final six games of the 2016 season, finishing 7-4 in the first round of the playoffs. In the following two seasons, the Patriots have finished with a 1-9 record – a long way from that postseason berth three years ago.
Meanwhile, Stillwater won three of its remaining six games in the 2016 season before finishing 8-3 in 2017 and 12-1 a year ago. The Pioneers have become one of the powerhouses in Class 6A-II.
“We’re trying to stay focused on this week,” Barnard said. “A friend gave me a quote from Nick Saban from a couple weeks ago at his press conference. Basically, Saban was talking about this situation to some degree. You can look ahead a little bit – kind of glance out to the future – and look back at the past and see what you’v learned, but for the most part, you really have to stay focused where you’re at.
“I had a reporter ask me yesterday about the collision course with Bixby. I think about that, obviously. It would be silly of me to say that I don’t, but what I realize is we can forfeit that opportunity if we slip up now or against Del City or in the playoffs. We’ve really got to maintain our focus and make sure we’re continuing to improve today. That’s been our charge.”
Barnard added that his players don’t look too far ahead, in addition to playing their own game.
“I feel like our kids, each week, do a pretty good job of understanding who the competition is, what they do and don’t do and what they’re good at and maybe not good at. But, I also think they do a nice job of remembering who we are also and the way we do things.”
The Pioneers (7-0 overall, 4-0 district) are now looking to to lock up a chance to play for the district title in their regular season finale. They will host Del City (6-1, 4-0) in Week 10.
First, they must play the Patriots at 7 p.m. Friday at PC West High. It’s the first of back-to-back road games for Stillwater.
A Stillwater win over PC West on Friday would set up a district title contest in two weeks, as long as Del City wins one of its next two games. Del City travels to Midwest City this week before hosting Lawton next week.
“I mentioned Del City today when I was talking to the guys before practice,” Barnard said. “That’s kind of where we’re glancing up and looking ahead to. There is a district title game coming up in a couple of weeks, so we can’t look at an 0-7 team and say they aren’t good or aren’t worth our effort. An attitude like that – even if we go ahead and win the game – that lasting effect of not improving could be detrimental. You have to think of it as a ladder and you want to keep moving up. We don’t want to stay stagnate.”
Although it needs only one win over either PC West or Putnam City High (1-6, 1-3) to force a district title contest with Del City, Stillwater could be without its top receiving target. Senior wideout Anthony Bland, who has caught 57 passes for 779 yards and 11 touchdowns, suffered a foot injury last week, and could return this season.
“I really don’t know what the timeline is going to be,” Barnard said. “We don’t think it’s as bad today as we maybe thought on Saturday. The first news on Saturday was pretty bad news, but then a closer look and MRI makes us think we expect to have him back. When that will be? That’s still up in the air. He’s still in a boot and crutches. We just have to wait and see how he progresses.”
To help prevent other injuries, Barnard and his staff have shortened practices this week. They do it every year as the season winds down.
“We’ve taken a few minutes out of the practice schedule,” Barnard said. “We cut about 15 minutes. … We try to get them off their legs a little bit. I was just telling someone we’ve got a couple guys with ankle injuries from last week, so we don’t want them doing a lot of running right now.”
This week’s practices have been focused on the struggling PC West squad. The Patriots are under the new leadership of coach Craig Maynard.
In his first year, Maynard has transitioned from the flexbone option offense to a more traditional spread. While the spread offense has its challenges defensively, Barnard said its easier to scheme against because it’s a familiar offense.
“It’s a lot more traditional now,” Barnard said. “You’re not going to see any of that. They look more like us and everybody else.”
“I’m sure the previous staff believed that gave them an advantage, knowing defenses had to prepare for a different offense. Maybe it does to some degree, but those offenses are so difficult to execute. A mistake in that offense is so magnified. Yukon deals with that right now.”
Follow Jimmy Gillispie on Twitter @jgillispie_stw for Stillwater High football updates.