Championship teams always seem to have great chemistry, and Stillwater head coach Tucker Barnard believes this year’s Pioneer football squad has that special intangible in spades.
“This group is special,” admitted Barnard, whose team has won its first four games of the season. “This group is really close. It’s a really tight-knit group of guys. When I hear them being interviewed by other people, I hear them used the word “brotherhood” and “family” and that’s really cool to hear.”
That’s saying something when you realize how good Stillwater has been the past four years. The Pioneers made it to the Class 6A-II championship game in 2018 and 2019 and the semifinals in each of the past two seasons.
“I think it’s the style we play,” stated Barnard. “Our guys play really fast. They play really hard. They play really physical. That’s something that has really been a hallmark of our success. Plus, our players have been really good the past five or six years.”
The Pioneers have a couple of “really good” players on this year’s squad, like senior quarterback Gage Gundy and Oklahoma State offensive line commit Jakobe Sanders, a 6-3, 300 road grader, who get a lot of attention.
They also have some guys that might not impress you when you look at their roster, but they perform like all-stars on Friday night.
One such player is tailback Noah Roberts, an undersized offensive weapon who is having a great senior season.
After rushing for nearly 700 yards as a junior, the 5-8, 155-pound Roberts made headlines in Stillwater’s second game of the season by gaining 154 yards and scoring four touchdowns in a convincing win over Yukon. In the Pioneers’ thrilling 36-33 win over Norman the following week, Roberts added another 107 yards and scored the game-winning touchdown with 11 seconds left in the game.
“When we huddled up to take the field for that last offensive drive, I don’t think there was anybody in that huddle that didn’t firmly believe that we were going to go score,” recalled Barnard. “They all felt confident in the plays that were going to be called and that they could execute them.”
Despite his size, Roberts has answered the challenge of getting the majority of the carries in the running game. He recorded 77 carries in the first three games alone, amassing 460 yards and 8 touchdowns.
“His vision and balance and speed, the combination of all those things, he’s not taking a lot of big shots,” explained Barnard. “He doesn’t get hit squarely very often. He’s a great player, an awesome kid, one of those kids that just checks all the boxes. His teammates love him, his coaches love him. He’s just awesome to be around.”
The top-ranked Pioneers face a tough district matchup this week when they travel to Tulsa to tangle with fifth-ranked Booker T. Washington Friday night. It’s a rematch of last year’s 6A-II quarterfinal matchup won by Stillwater, 36-29. This Ford Game of the Week matchup will be televised by Cox’s YurView Channel 3 at 7 P.M. and streamed online.