Despite the holiday Monday and the wild weather change Tuesday, this week has felt more like what used to be normal for the Stillwater High football team.
There was a game last Friday night – a home victory for the Pioneers – and time to watch film before preparing for the next opponent. It’s a typical game week during a very untypical time.
“There is a routine that we try to get into, obviously,” SHS football coach Tucker Barnard said. “With the distance learning, things are not quite the same and certainly not normal. Practice times are not normal. The kids’ school times aren’t the same. It’s still a little difficult to get into a routine, but as far as the structure of a Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday practice, there is a little comfort in that.”
The Pioneers are preparing to play at Mustang this week. The game will kick off at 7 p.m. Friday. Stillwater (1-0) enters the game fresh off a nice win over an Edmond Santa Fe team (0-2) expected to be one of the best teams in Class 6A-I.
Stillwater flexed its muscles early in the game, building a lead that was insurmountable. The Pioneers’ offense was powered by the Qwontrel Walker train that’s been traveling full-speed ahead since he burst onto the scene in the 2017 season opener.
“He did a little bit of everything Friday night,” Barnard said. “He ran away from people. He hit a spin move on people. He did a little dip in and break the other direction. He ran over people. He did it all Friday night.”
The SHS senior running back carried the ball 29 times for 243 yards and five touchdowns. Walker is expected to carry the offense this fall. When asked about Walker’s workload, which included 20 first-half carries Friday, Barnard said his star tailback doesn’t take the punishment other backs take during games.
“If there is, he doesn’t really show it,” Barnard said when wear and tear on Walker. “He doesn’t take a lot of physical abuse in games. People don’t square him up and hit him solid. About the most physical thing that seems to happen to him is if he’s in a pile of people. If he has any space at all, he’s usually getting pulled down or tripped because he doesn’t get hit square.”
Stillwater had a balanced attack against the Wolves, despite its top receivers being limited. Senior quarterback Caleb Allen threw for 256 yards in his first varsity start, and more than half of those yards went to senior receiver Donnell Wagner.
Wagner caught eight passes for 142 yards to lead the Pioneers. Their returning target – senior Steven Brown – was held to four receptions for 44 yards. One big reason was the Wolves’ defensive scheme, which allowed players like Wagner, senior A.J. Frost and freshman Holden Thompson to shine with at least three catches each.
“They really just doubled up Steven and tried to take him away,” Barnard said. “They put a couple of their best defenders over there, which is fine. That’s the way the game is played sometimes. At least right now, we’re talented enough we have multiple options.”
The Pioneers’ defense gave up 32 points in the victory. Last year’s squad allowed more than 14 points only twice – 23 to Del City and 40 to Bixby in the state title game.
Although last week’s opponent was better than many last year, Barnard still puts a lot of the blame on himself as it was his first game coaching the defense.
“Defensively, we’re just trying to get better,” Barnard said. “We had a few breakdowns and some of that I put on my own shoulders, and some of it is stuff that shouldn’t have happened, but it did, so we have to get better.
“I probably called a defensive game like a rookie coordinator. There are about three calls I’d really like to have back. I talked to the guys and told them there were a few times I put them in bad situations and made it tougher on them than what needed to be. I’ll get better because we have good players over there.”
The Wolves’ longest play was a 55-yard touchdown pass to star wideout Talyn Shettron, who is regarded as one of the top receivers around in the country for the Class of 2022. The result of the play was unfortunate for Stillwater, which was missing cornerback Eli Williams – who guarded Shettron most of the game and held him to just three catches – for that one play.
“The call itself was fine. There was nothing wrong with the call,” Barnard said. “What made it bad was that Eli had to come off because his helmet had come off the play before so I moved a safety to play corner on that play. He had done it very little in practice. … I put him in a tough spot by making a call that wasn’t comfortable to him. It didn’t bother me that we didn’t have anybody deep. It was just a bad idea with Eli coming out of the game for a play.”
It’s a mistake Barnard owns and hopes to correct moving forward this week at Mustang. The Broncos are 1-0 after a 35-21 win over Yukon last week.
It’s been three years since the two teams have met and four years since Stillwater last played at Mustang. The Pioneers won both of those games.
It’s a fairly familiar opponent for the Pioneers, who are trying to get back into their usual routine each week. Mustang will present a challenge for the No. 2-ranked team in Class 6A-II.
“We’re really just trying to get back to what we do,” Barnard said. “Offensively, we felt like we had a pretty good game last week. We performed well and put up a lot of points. This week may be a little different as Mustang is jumping in and out of fronts, so that’s a bit of a different challenge. We don’t see people do that a lot. We’re working on that and trying to apply our blocking rules to every situation.”
Follow Jimmy Gillispie on Twitter @jgillispie_stw for Stillwater High coverage and live updates from Friday’s game.