With one pivotal touchdown pass, Gage Gundy personified the Stillwater High football team’s phrase of the game.
Before each matchup, coach Tucker Barnard writes a few inspirational words on the game-day schedule in the Pioneers’ locker room. The phrase “Poise under pressure” was there to guide them as they prepared for an intense clash against Mustang, and junior quarterback Gundy stayed true to that message in a moment when his team needed it.
On fourth down with less than one minute to retake the lead from the Broncos, Gundy catapulted a long pass to sophomore receiver Heston Thompson, who caught it and stormed into the end zone. It had been a close matchup from start to finish, but that touchdown gave the Pioneers the boost they needed to secure a 32-28 home victory against Mustang on Friday night.
Stillwater started its season 2-0, while the Broncos fell to 1-1.
“I would say the whole offense and everybody was pretty calm,” Gundy said. “We went out there, we did good and got the touchdown. When (Thompson) caught the ball, I just froze for a little bit, honestly.”
Gundy’s 60-yard passing touchdown with 49 seconds left brought the Pioneers back from a 28-25 deficit. Targeting and facemask penalties had proven costly for the Stillwater defense during Mustang’s last scoring drive, easing the Broncos toward touchdown territory.
Despite some big stops to push Mustang back from the red zone, the Pioneers couldn’t prevent quarterback Tristen Russell from connecting with Andre Dollar for a 22-yard, fourth-down touchdown pass with 3:15 left.
It was up to Gundy to make something happen when Stillwater got the ball back. After a couple of incomplete passes, Gundy kept his cool and delivered the 60-yard game-changer to Thompson.
“We got the alignment, we had talked about that play at halftime,” Barnard said. “...We thought we probably would’ve ran it earlier in that second half but just didn’t get around to it, and (it was) great timing, great route, great catch, all of it.”
The Broncos had one more chance to score in the final seconds, but Stillwater’s defense refused to let them. Tayveon Morton and Brayden Burke sacked Russell as time expired, sealing Mustang’s fate.
“That’s big-time right there,” Gundy said. “And they’re a good offensive team.”
Gundy went 14 for 19 with 188 passing yards. He threw for four touchdowns and had no interceptions.
After Stillwater’s opening victory against Edmond Santa Fe, Barnard said he wanted the Pioneers to try passing the ball on the perimeter more often, and Gundy followed his coach’s advice.
Receiver Mason Butler was active against the Broncos, grabbing a pass from Gundy near the left sideline and taking advantage of an open path into the end zone to give the Pioneers a 25-21 lead with 9:30 left. Butler recorded a game-high 77 receiving yards on eight catches.
The Pioneers also stuck to their steady run game, again relying on junior Noah Roberts to provide bursts of speed in the second half. Roberts had his second consecutive game with more than 100 rushing yards, building up 135 on 24 carries.
As Barnard predicted, the Broncos charged toward Stillwater with a powerful game on the ground, too. The Broncos distributed the ball among several guys – three Mustang players, including Russell, had more than 50 rushing yards.
Russell also gave the Broncos momentum in the air, completing 14 of 18 passes for 214 yards. Stillwater and Mustang stayed close to each other the entire game, creating a thriller for the first matchup of the season at Pioneer Stadium, but the Pioneers walked away with a win that wowed Barnard.
“I’m a little lost for words right now, which doesn’t happen very often,” Barnard said. “It was a heck of a football game.”
The Pioneers will strive for a third non-district win when they face Bixby at 7 p.m. next Friday on the road, and their hard-fought victory against Mustang can serve as preparation for what’s ahead.
“I think it’s good for next time we’re in this position,” Gundy said. “We’re even more calm and just composed, I would say. I bet there will be some more games later on in the year we’re gonna have to do this again.”