Norman High football: Tigers upset bid falls short against top-ranked Stillwater

Sep. 17—STILLWATER — Norman High sophomore quarterback Phoenix Murphy dropped back and hurled the ball towards Stillwater's goal line as the final seconds ticked off the clock at Pioneer Stadium.

There was a jump ball at the goal line as players from both teams wrestled for the ball. The pass was caught, but it was Stillwater defensive back Ryker Martin who ended up coming down with it to seal a 36-33 win for the Pioneers.

Norman High's final prayer may have come with a small chance at success, but the Tigers' performance up to that point made them difficult to count out until the final whistle blew.

"Obviously it hurts when you lose," NHS head coach Rocky Martin said. "But how the kids came out, obviously we started out slow and we wanted to start fast, that was our big thing, but I think we had such a good week of practice Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday and it shows."

After a pair of tough losses to open the season, Norman High once again struggled to find its rhythm in the first few drives against Stillwater. Stillwater, Class 6A-II's top-ranked team, didn't waste any time putting up points, jumping out to an early 14-0 lead on a 22-yard pass from Gage Gundy to Talon Kendrick and a six-yard run by Noah Roberts.

Norman High was held scoreless in the first quarter for the second week in a row, but grabbed some momentum early in the second when Montgomery Johnson came away with a strip that was recovered by Lance Eubanks.

The Tigers' offense was set up on the Pioneers 20-yard line and needed five plays to punch it in on a nine-yard run by Xavier Shackelford. Norman High entered the game with uncertainty at the running back position following injuries to Shackelford and Devin Alexander over the last few weeks.

Both Shackelford and Alexander played the entire game, with Shackelford starting the first two series. Alexander finished the first half with 56 rushing yards on 10 carries and Shackelford carried the ball four times for 49 yards.

Both had first half rushing touchdowns to help the Tigers enter the break trailing 21-19.

"They're both banged up still, but they both fought through it," Martin said. "They ran downhill and that's what we asked."

The Pioneers opened up the second half with a 30-yard touchdown pass from Gundy to Julius Talley. With the Tigers' backs up against the wall trailing by two touchdowns, Martin moved starting quarterback Tias McClarty to tailback and let his sophomore backup take over signal calling duties.

The Tigers immediately responded with a 14-play drive that took up over five minutes of game time. The Tigers converted on a third-and-long and two fourth downs during the drive to keep the chains moving.

Twice, Murphy appeared to be wrapped up in the backfield on fourth down and both times he was able to escape and find his man for the conversion. Facing a fourth-and-15 from the Pioneers' 17-yard line, Murphy escaped pressure by rolling to his left and rifled a pass across his body into the back of the end zone to a wide open Max Wilson.

"He and Tias, I mean, how do you prepare for both of them?" Martin said. "He stepped up, he's a sophomore and was patient. He just had a really good performance."

Murphy completed 4-of-9 passes for 37 yards and a touchdown.

The Tigers took their first lead of the game with just over two minutes left in the game on a four-yard pass from McClarty to Wilson.

But when the Pioneers got the ball back, they were able to march down the field behind the play of their senior quarterback. Gundy completed 2-of-4 passes for 45 yards on the final drive and had runs of 13 and 23 yards to put Stillwater right on Norman High's door step with under 30 seconds left in the game.

After a first-and-goal run was stopped short, it appeared Brody Boyd was able to get another big strip for the Tigers, but the play was ruled dead and the Pioneers' kept possession of the ball. On the next play, Roberts ran it in from two-yards out.

"Obviously they're crushed, but they've got to hold their heads up high and continue to get better," Martin said.

The Tigers looked like a different team from the one that suffered a 42-7 loss to Moore last week. Martin credits his team for coming out and responding against a good Stillwater team on the road.

Norman High finished with 326 yards of total offense with over 260 of those yards coming on the ground. McClarty led the team with 97 yards on the ground on 16 carries and a touchdown.

The Tigers will continue to look for their first win of the season when they enter district play next week against Edmond North.

"Throw the records out from these first three games," Martin said about the message moving forward. "Obviously we have to learn from the losses and we have. I think after last week we responded well, we learned from our mistakes and it was about practice. We had a good week of practice and we've got to continue to get better each day."

Tarik Masri is a sports reporter for The Transcript covering OU athletics and area sports. You can reach him by emailing