Claremore head coach Rob Gilbreath told his team after Friday’s 59-35 loss to Class 5A No. 3 McAlester that the difference in the outcome came down to four plays.
“You take those four big plays away,” Gilbreath said, “and we’re in the game, with a chance to win.”
McAlester (2-1) returned a pair of interceptions from Claremore senior quarterback Brinley Brown for momentum-shifting touchdowns in the second and fourth quarters.
Caden Pratt’s 67-yard interception return with 7:42 remaining in the first half put McAlester ahead 21-14.
“There in the second quarter, we’re moving the ball down the field, and have their defense on their heels, and then Pratt comes up with a big play that goes for a pick-6,” Gilbreath said.
McAlester built a 7-0 lead early in the first quarter on Dalton Wood’s 16-yard touchdown run right through the middle of the Claremore defense. Wood’s run was aided by a 45-yard run on a fake punt that capped off an 80-yard drive.
Claremore, however, capitalized on its first offensive series with Brown finding Caleb Webster in the left-corner of the end zone for a 21-yard touchdown that knotted the game at 7-7 with 4:25 left in the first quarter.
Moments later, Brown’s 1-yard touchdown run put Claremore up 14-7 at the 2:18 mark. The scoring drive was set up by Brown’s 12-yard completion to Hunter Garroutte and Dustin Basks’ 30-yard catch-and-run to the goal line.
On the night, Brown completed 18-of-30 passes for 289 yards and two touchdowns with two interceptions.
McAlester tied the game at 14-14 with 9:32 remaining in the second quarter on Jerome Smith’s 20-yard touchdown run.
Following Pratt’s interception return, Wood closed out the first half scoring with a 7-yard touchdown run that put McAlester up 28-14 at halftime.
The high-scoring McAlester offense took a 35-14 lead with 9:35 left in the third quarter on Smith’s 20-yard touchdown run that capped off a 5-play, 74-yard drive.
After a strong defensive stand by the Zebras, Claremore’s offense needed only three plays to narrow the deficit to 35-21.
Brown’s hot target on the night — Basks — found a crease in McAlester’s secondary and raced 70 yards for the touchdown.
Basks, who finished with 353 all-purpose yards, caught nine passes for 156 yards and also rushed for 46 yards on four carries.
The difference, though, was McAlester quarterback Dalton Wood’s ability to execute the zone read option and muscle his way through Claremore’s interior line.
The 6-foot-5, 235-pound senior quarterback hammered his way for a 15-yard gain on McAlester’s ensuing offensive drive that set up a 60-yard touchdown pass from Wood to Zach Baugh that put the Buffs ahead 42-21 with 0:17 left in the third quarter.
“We knew their quarterback (Wood) was good,” Gilbreath said. “He’s a strong, physical runner that finds a way to make plays.”
Claremore, trailing once again by 21 points, opened the fourth quarter with Brown’s second interception of the game going for a 77-yard touchdown return by Cade Harkins with 10:43 left. Harkins stepped in front of a pass intended for Basks and raced 77 yards for the touchdown that put McAlester up 49-21.
Basks, on the ensuing kickoff, showed his explosive speed and sprinted past the McAlester coverage for an 84-yard kickoff return that cut the deficit once again to 49-28.
McAlester’s final touchdown came on Smith’s 49-yard run.
Claremore (2-1) answered with Robin Walker scoring on a 16-yard touchdown with 2:30 remaining in the game.