Needing to bolster a rushing attack that was missing its star, Stillwater High seniors Sean Preston and Chris Jones stepped up in their final regular season game at Pioneer Stadium.
They gave the Pioneers a ground attack that was missing during the first half Friday night, and they did it on a night when Qwontrel Walker briefly tried to return from his ankle injury. Preston and Jones filled in for the junior tailback and balanced Stillwater’s offense.
That balanced attack, combined with a turnover-happy defense, was the recipe Stillwater needed to earn its second-straight district championship. Stillwater beat Del City 48-23 to claim the Class 6A-II District 1 title.
“Man, I had a blast tonight,” Preston said. “It was my senior night tonight. Actually, it’s our senior night. This was probably the most fun I’ve had in a while. I worked the hardest I’ve worked tonight. That was one of the most fun games I’ve played in, to be honest.”
Fellow senior Gunnar Gundy agreed.
“It’s awesome for this team, this community and for Stillwater,” Gundy said. “It’s big time for us. We worked really hard to get here and we capped it off right.”
Preston sealed the Pioneers’ victory with his longest run of the night. Two plays after converting a fourth down and short with a 12-yard run, Preston ran right through the heart of the Eagles’ defense for an easy 18-yard touchdown.
No Eagles player was near Preston the final 10 yards as he sprinted into the end zone. His score was the final nail in the Eagles’ coffin, but the experienced Preston, whose primary role is linebacker, didn’t consider celebrating as the crossed the goal line.
“I know if I do celebrate, it’s going to get a penalty,” Preston said. “I know I had to keep my mind right.
“It was hard, but I was celebrating inside. In my mind, I was going crazy. I had fun.”
Preston and the Pioneers defense shut down Del City for most of the night, with the exception of its second drive. The Eagles marched 80 yards in 16 plays, taking an 8-3 lead over Stillwater with seconds left in the first quarter.
Del City (8-2 overall, 6-1 district) quarterback Quinlan Ganther threw a 5-yard touchdown pass to Sherod Davis for the score. It capped a 6 minute and 37 second drive.
“That definitely fired us up,” Preston said. “Coach stressed that we were going to have some adversity and we needed to battle through it. That’s what happened and we did a good job battling it.”
It marked the first time Stillwater (10-0, 7-0) has trailed all season. It also served as a wake-up call for Stillwater.
The Pioneers allowed only 77 yards of offense the rest of the night.
Stillwater also intercepted Ganther three times and recovered one fumble. Senior Kobe Holley, junior Eyuel Abame and sophomore Gabe Brown all intercepted Ganther.
“Our defense was incredible tonight,” Barnard said. “I don’t know what the yardage was, but I think we gave up one defensive touchdown on the night. That’s a really good football team over there, so I was really proud of our defensive players and coaches.”
Offensively, Stillwater came out passing most of the first half. Gundy completed 14 of 18 passes for 147 yards and just one touchdown in the half. Gundy finished the night 18 of 26 for 226 yards.
His lone mistake was his first pass of the second half. Gundy was targeting senior wideout Anthony Bland, but Del City’s Kyshon Murray intercepted it and returned it for a touchdown. It was Gundy’s second interception of the year.
“It did baffle me at first,” Gundy said. “It’s never good to throw a pick six – that’s about the worst thing you can do playing quarterback. It shows our mental strength that we came back and acted like nothing happened.”
Gundy responded by completed 4 of 7 passes for 79 yards in the half. His last touchdown pass was a 5-yard throw to McEndoo.
Stillwater will be back at home next week to host the first round of the 6A-II playoffs against Sapulpa (6-4).
Follow News Press sports reporter Jimmy Gillispie on Twitter @jgillispie_stw for updates on Stillwater High athletics.