By Blake Colston
The first victory of the Brent Barnes era was a big one.
The Millers on Friday night at Miller Stadium stunned defending Class 6A-2 state champion Stillwater, 37-34, on a game-winning 21-yard field goal from kicker Ethan Nakolo with two seconds remaining.
YHS squandered a 14-point lead in the fourth quarter, but the Millers’ offense, which rushed for 244 yards, put together the game-winning drive with less than two minutes remaining to punctuate a physical, relentless performance that snapped an eight-game losing skid that had spanned 357 days.
“Our schedule here in the beginning is tough. We knew we’d have to fight and scratch, and claw just to get to a win,” Barnes said. “To be able to do that tonight was great. I was really happy for our guys, because they’ve worked really hard.”
While Nakolo was the glaring hero in one of the most memorable Miller football victories in recent history, Yukon got big nights from several players, including quarterback Holden Kee, who completed 18 of 27 passes for 171 yards and rushed for 107 yards and two touchdowns.
Kee and receiver Lucas Jones connected on a timely, much-needed third down-and-15 completion from the YHS 22-yard line to keep alive the game-winning drive in the final minute. Jones, who hauled in a team-high seven passes for 75 yards, leaped in front of two Stillwater defensive backs to catch Kee’s throw.
“I told the guys that everything we run on Friday night we will have run in practice first. That play wasn’t. We drew that up in the dirt,” Barnes said of Jones’ improvised route. “In the moment, I felt like we needed to find our guy. There are play calls and players, and they have to make plays. For him to step up and make that play in that moment was huge.”
If not for Jones’ heroics, Yukon (1-1) would’ve been forced to punt the ball back to a suddenly red-hot Stillwater offense.
Instead, on the next snap, Kee kept the ball on a zone-read play and sprinted for a 15-yard gain. A horse collar penalty against the Pioneers tacked on 15 additional yards and carried the Millers into comfortable field goal range.
Nakolo, a senior and also a standout soccer player, connected on all three of his field goal attempts and finished 4 for 4 on extra-point tries. He split the uprights on his game-winner.
“I’m so glad he’s with us. We wouldn’t have won the game without him,” Barnes said.
In for injured starter Logan Day, Kawika Burnett ran 19 times for 105 yards and a touchdown. Day accumulated 31 yards and a score on four touches before leaving with an unspecified injury.
The Millers, for a while, looked to be cruising toward a less dramatic win. Yukon led 34-20 midway through the fourth quarter, but the Pioneers mounted a furious rally in the final minutes to tie the game on a five-yard run from quarterback Chance Acord with 3:06 to play.
Stillwater (0-2) lost consecutive games for the first time since the 2017 season.
Following a season-opening loss Aug. 25 to Greenwood Ark., the Pioneers had two weeks to prepare for Friday’s game, and Stillwater’s offense looked sharp on its opening possession. SHS drove 65 yards in 11 plays capped by a 9-yard touchdown run from running back Holden Thompson on a fourth down-and-2 play.
After Stillwater struck first, the YHS offense on its opening possession set the tone for the rest of the night. Yukon went on its own 11-play, 65-yard march that was capped by Day’s 3-yard touchdown run. The Millers’ averaged almost 10 yards per rush on their opening drive and 6.1 per carry for the game.
“We had great success on the first drive and never really deviated from it,” Barnes said. “Those guys up front did a great job all night. They got us in rhythm and got us going.”
The Yukon defense made plays, too. Linebacker Andrew Garcia intercepted a pass and defensive back Tayber Gammon recovered a fumble as YHS won the turnover battle 2-0.
“I can’t say enough about their effort,” Barnes said of Yukon’s defense. “They kept us in it.”
Next Friday, the Millers play on the road for the first time in 2023 when they travel to face Norman North. Barnes went 24-10 in three seasons as head coach of the Timberwolves from 2016-2018.