As one door closed Friday night, another swung open.
The Claremore Zebras shook an imposing, and formidable, monkey off their backs, drop-kicked him right over the Lantow Field fence and on to Sioux Street, then quickly locked the gates behind him.
His name was O-fer.
He had been hanging around the football Zebras for weeks. Had pressured them, burdened them, embarrassed them.
With him on their backs, and in their heads, the Zebras had gone O-fer-September.
In fact, with him, or one of his unsavory relatives, playing mind games, the Zebras had gone O-fer-their-last-seven-games.
O-fer had made sure the Zebras would not, could not, win.
O-fer was an ugly rascal.
But as of 9:57 Friday night, with Blake Grauer holding the whip, the Zebras chased O-fer right across mid-field and out the gate. And out of their lives.
The Zebras cheered as O-fer tucked tail and ran after the Skiatook bus, looking for a new ride, a new home, a new sanctuary.
And then the Zebras opened the door to the rest of their lives.
They opened the door to winning.
The Zebras ended a seven-game losing streak that included the final two games of last season, making Skiatook the scapegoat, 26-11, before a raucous Homecoming crowd.
It wasn’t pretty. The Zebras gave away the 11 points, like some kind of gaudy door prize at their big party.
Still, there’s something awfully attractive about a win. Especially a 15-point District 5A-4 win that owes everything to a suffocating defense.
It was the Zebras’ first win since Oct. 28, 2005.
“We needed that win,” coach Keith Bell said. “Definitely.
“We needed to get a win to have a starting point for this program. And tonight was the starting point for this program.”
Bell was brought in this year to take control of the Zebras’ football program.
It took him five weeks, five losses, to reach this starting point.
“And I feel very good right now,” he said.
“Like I told the kids, we were the best 0-and-5 team you could play.
“Now, we’re the best 1-and-5 team you could play.”
The Zebras’ defense was at its rock-level best Friday night.
The defense gave up one first down. One. For the whole game. And a whopping five yards rushing.
O-fer, and those of his ilk, won’t stick around a program very long when the defense is holding opponents to one first down a night.
The offense, despite a slow start, came around under the blue-ribbon direction of junior quarterback Blake Grauer and earned its right to share the spotlight with the defense.
Grauer wound up throwing for three touchdowns, two in the fourth quarter, and 212 yards.
“It was awesome,” he said.
Grauer was smiling after a game for the first time this season.
It’s an emotion he hopes, and expects, will remain.
“Our team is planning on winning out,” he said. “That’s our goal. We’re going to carry this into our next game.”
When a team sheds the O-fer monkey, it can look down the schedule with new-found confidence.
Just ask Bell.
“Once you get over the hump, like we did tonight, great things are ahead for this program,” he said.
With a 1-5 record, and a 1-2 reading in the district, the Zebras are counting the ways it can qualify for the playoffs.
They slammed the door on losing.
And opened the door to optimism.