Beginning Friday morning, the Stillwater High football team will be facing its final test of summer challenges before the 2019 season officially begins next month.
It will be quite a test, and it comes on the end of the Oklahoma Secondary Schools Activities Association nine-day dead period. The Pioneers will leave Thursday for Springdale, Arkansas, to compete in the Southwest Elite 7-on-7 Showcase.
The highly-competitive event begins Friday morning and wraps up Saturday with bracket play. There will be two pool play sessions Friday before the tournament play kicks off Saturday morning.
“It’s a great tournament and it’s really, really competitive,” SHS football coach Tucker Barnard said. “The competition over there is tremendous. You can’t find another tournament like it within a two-, three- or four-hour travel radius. So, we’re really excited about it. It’s a really difficult tournament. We know we’re going to be pushed physically.”
Last year, Stillwater finished third in its pool before winning its first three tournament games. The first was a rout, but the Pioneers narrowly edged out the next two schools – the second of which was Class 6A-II district foe Midwest City. SHS won 25-23.
The Pioneers lost their next game to eventual runner-up Fayetteville (Arkansas). In the consolation side of the bracket, the Pioneers were immediately faced up with Broken Arrow, which won the 6A-I state championship last fall.
Broken Arrow beat Stillwater, advanced through the consolation bracket and beat Fayetteville twice to win the showcase.
“The thing with 7-on-7 is that every play is so important,” Barnard said. “Literally one drop or one interception that you have in your hands and you drop it is the difference in the game. Sometimes you’ll play a near perfect game and lose. I think it’s great for our competition, because it lets the kids see – because it’s such a short game – how important one individual play can be. I think it helps put them in a great mindset heading into the football season.”
Earlier this summer, the Pioneers participated in a 7-on-7 event in Norman. They finished second to Norman North.
“We did really well,” Barnard said. “We won everything all the way up to the finals, and we got beat by Norman North in the finals.
“We made a couple of crucial mistakes. It really came down to the funny 7-on-7 rules. The game is what it is, so I’m not complaining about the rules.”
The Stillwater coach said his team had the lead by one point on what would be the final possession. The Pioneers had second-down-and-five with about 20 seconds left.
A first down would have given Stillwater the tournament win, but a failure to convert a first down gave Norman North the win, as a defensive stop is worth two points.
“You can’t really run out the clock in 7-on-7 like you would in a real game,” Barnard said. “So, you’ve got to keep playing.
“It’s a weird deal,” Barnard said. “We’ve played by those rules for years, so it’s not like I’m being all upset by the rules. It’s like we won the game and then all of a sudden, we didn’t.”
Barnard was proud of his players’ efforts. The Pioneers were playing without their second-leading wide receiver from last fall – Jack Smithton – who suffered a minor ankle injury prior to the 7-on-7 event.
“We played really well,” Barnard said. “Our guys did really well. We were pretty dominant, honestly, all the way up until that last deal. It’s just a game where you pretty much have to score every possession. It comes down to a two-point conversion here or there, depending on what the case is.”