Yes Class 5A, the Claremore Zebras are for real.
For the first time in years, the Zebras are 5-0 and opening eyes around the state of Oklahoma.
“It’s exciting,” Claremore sophomore defensive back Dustin Basks said on the magnificent start to the 2012 season.
On Homecoming, the Zebras rode their defense to a 23-7 win over Tahlequah before a packed house at Lantow Field.
“Thank God for defense,” Claremore head coach Rob Gilbreath said. “We forced five turnovers and contained a very, very good running back in (Mason) McMillan.”
The welcome return of senior defensive tackle Grady Caton — who has been battling injuries — turned into a blessing in disguise for Claremore.
“I have been down on Grady (Caton) lately, but tonight he played like a champion,” Claremore defensive coordinator Jarrett Hurt told the players at midfield following the win.
The constant pressure that Caton applied on Tahlequah quarterback David Dick proved that he’s back and tenacious as ever.
Claremore’s main focus coming into Friday’s battle with Tahlequah was to hold Tigers running back Mason McMillan under 200 yards.
McMillan and the Tigers rushing attack carried 25 times for 64 yards.
Mission accomplished for the Zebras defense.
“Our defense played spectacular,” Gilbreath said. “We had four three-and-outs to start the game and that was big for us.”
A week ago in Tahlequah’s 35-20 win over Grove, McMillan rushed for 225 yards on 26 carries with a pair of touchdowns.
Gilbreath said earlier in the week that if McMillan got 200 yards on the Zebras, it could be a long night.
The relentless pursuit of Claremore’s fierce linebacking corp, led by senior Jordan Cunningham and sophomore Baron Hope, kept McMillan contained to the inside and unable to break free.
After a scoreless first quarter, the Zebras took an advantage of good field position following Basks’ first of three interceptions.
With 4:01 remaining in the second quarter, Claremore quarterback Matt Whatley faked the handoff to Cunningham and rolled to his left on the bootleg for the 4-yard touchdown. Jared Vincent’s extra point failed and the Zebras led 6-0.
“(Matt) Whatley’s been working hard on getting his speed back, and tonight, he used his legs to make some big plays for us,” Gilbreath said. “He’s at his best when he’s scrambling out of the pocket.”
On the ensuing drive, Tahlequah answered with Dick connecting on a 10-yard touchdown pass to Tyler Eisensmith to put the Tigers ahead 7-6 with 54.6 seconds left until halftime.
“We had some mishaps on special teams early in the game, and that’s not like us,” Gilbreath said. “Our kickoff return coverage has got to get better, especially with East Central coming up on Friday.”
Claremore’s ability to score quick turned the momentum into its favor in a span of 30 seconds.
Tyler Cagle’s onside kick recovery at midfield, combined with Whatley’s gritty running led to Claremore capping off a 5-play, 52-yard scoring drive.
With 22 seconds left in the second quarter, Whatley once again rolled to his left and spotted junior wide receiver Caleb Webster open in the end zone for a 27-yard touchdown that put Claremore ahead 12-7 at halftime.
In the second half, Claremore intercepted three passes — two by Basks and one by Webster — got a fumble recovery by Brycen Short and a blocked punt by Nathan Lollis.
Short’s 2-yard touchdown run with 6:31 left in the third quarter extended Claremore’s lead to 18-7.
Then, with 2:12 left in the third quarter, Vincent booted a 20-yard field goal to make it 21-7.
After Vincent’s kick off pinned Tahlequah inside its own 3-yard line, Lollis rose to the occasion on special teams. With 1:48 remaining in the third quarter, Lollis blocked the punt for a safety that put Claremore up 23-7.
Zebras QB Whatley takes charge in 23-7 homecoming win over Tahlequah
Yes Class 5A, the Claremore Zebras are for real.
'Twice as Nice'
When it comes to the 3A State Tournament and Oklahoma City, the Verdigris High School basketball teams are a household name.
Head coaches Randy Upshaw and Mike Buntin lead their programs back to the 'Capitol City' this week for a chance to hoist the coveted 3A state championship on Saturday night at the Big House.
Cards fly into 3A State Tournament
Verdigris junior guard Cade Upshaw lives for March Madness.
The 5-foot-10 sharp-shooter overcame a sluggish performance in a loss to Tahlequah Sequoyah to bounce back for a 20-point outing in the Cardinals’ 72-42 win over Antlers Saturday evening in the Class 3A Area Tournament at Checotah Event Center.
CLASS 4A AREA TOURNEY: Vinita eliminates Inola
Vinita used an 18-point third quarter — highlighted by the sophomore leadership of Carsyn Spurgeon — and converted 21-of-34 free throws to notch a 61-55 win over the Inola Lady Longhorns Saturday night in the Class 4A Area Tournament.
‘Soaring to State’
In the hometown of Carrie Underwood, Verdigris senior point guard Baileigh O’Dell proved to be Oklahoma’s ‘Basketball Idol’ in Class 3A Girls Basketball.
The 5-foot-8 floor general put the No. 4-ranked Lady Cardinals on her shoulders and carried Verdigris back to the the state tournament with the 53-40 win over No. 5 Tahlequah Sequoyah Friday night in the Area Championship at the Checotah Event Center.
CLASS 4A AREA TOURNEY: Stilwell advances to State
A jam-packed, vocal crowd — aided by the control of several Claremore Police officers — witnessed Stilwell’s come-from-behind 57-51 win over Harrah Saturday night in the must-win game of the Class 4A Area Tournament at the Claremore High School Gymnasium.
QB competition highlight Tulsa's spring drills
The Tulsa football team will open spring drills on Tuesday at H.A. Chapman Stadium. It will be the first of 15 spring workouts covering five weeks, and the first of three this week before taking next week off for Spring Break.
Tulsa practices on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday of this week with practice sessions beginning at 3:30 pm. Practices are open to the public, but TU fans are required to enter and sign-in for each practice session at the check-in station on the west side of the stadium.
FOOTBALL: Tulsa opens AAC season with home opener against Tulane
The University of Tulsa wastes no time in getting right into American Athletic Conference competition in its inaugural season in the conference. Tulsa kicks off the 2014 campaign at home against another new league member, the Tulane Green Wave, the first weekend of the college football season.
SOFTBALL: Henshaw's game-winning RBI single lifts Tulsa past Western Illinois
Right fielder Haley Henshaw's game-winning RBI single in the bottom of the seventh inning gave the University of Tulsa a 7-6 win over Western Illinois on Tuesday at the Collins Softball Complex.
C-USA WOMEN'S BB TOURNEY: No. 15-seed UTSA upsets Tulsa
No. 15-seed UTSA overcame a 15-point second-half deficit to defeat No. 10-seed Tulsa in first round Conference USA tournament action Tuesday night at Memorial Gym on the campus of UTEP. UTSA made eight of their last 14 field goals and 10-of-14 free throws to overtake the Hurricane.
SOFTBALL: OSU faces North Texas in Denton
The Oklahoma State softball team returns to action Wednesday, March 12, when the Cowgirls travel to Denton, Texas, to play North Texas in a midweek matchup beginning at 6 p.m.
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- 'Twice as Nice'