Claremore junior free safety Dustin Basks saved his best for the fourth quarter when the Zebras needed him the most.
Basks recorded two key interceptions — including one with 24.7 seconds remaining in the game — to secure the 37-22 win over East Central Friday night on Homecoming at Lantow Field.
“Big-time players make big-time plays,” Claremore head coach Rob Gilbreath said.
Making his first start at free safety — in place of injured senior Hunter Garroutte — Basks rode the inspiration of his fellow teammate right up until the final buzzer.
“We’ve been preparing for this game all week, and after getting beat by them last year in a heartbreaker, we wanted this win bad,” Basks said. “I missed my boys — Gage Meisinger and Hunter Garroutte — out there, and I wanted to make sure we won this game for them.”
Basks added that throughout the game, Garroutte hollered at him from the sideline and helped him out with coverage assignments.
Claremore’s defense — in the second half — forced three turnovers and held East Central to only seven points.
“This team rose to the occasion,” Gilbreath said. “It’s been a long time since Claremore has beaten East Central, and to do it on Homecoming in front of a jam-packed crowd feels pretty darn good.”
Claremore took the early 7-0 lead in the first quarter when Derrick Reliford capped off a 9-play, 70-yard drive with a 5-yard touchdown run.
East Central answered on the ensuing series with a 12-play, 69-yard drive, culminating in Tre’Von Cherry’s 2-yard touchdown on the read option. Derek Ross converted the extra point and both teams were tied at 7-7 with 4:01 left in the first quarter.
Claremore junior placekicker Jared Vincent opened the second quarter with a 27-yard field goal that returned the lead back to the Zebras at 10-7 with 10:38 left.
Vincent’s field goal was set up by powerful runs from Reliford and junior fullback Bear Hope.
Claremore’s rushing attack, according to Gilbreath, proved to be a key difference in the game. The Zebras finished with 55 carries for 388 yards and five touchdowns.
“We knew going in that we needed to establish the run game early,” Gilbreath said. “Our offensive line, led by seniors John McQueen and Kelby Haulmark, did an outstanding job of opening holes for our backs and winning the battle in the trenches.”
Reliford led Claremore’s running game with 181 yards on 25 carries and three touchdowns. Hope followed with 87 yards on 12 carries and Robin Walker added 69 yards on 10 carries and a touchdown.
East Central took its first lead of the game at 15-10 when Cherry’s 12-yard touchdown pass to Quantel Givens with 6:16 left in the first half capped off an 11-play, 80-yard drive. Cherry also converted the two-point conversion run.
The see-saw affair swung back in Claremore’s favor with 2:52 remaining until halftime.
A 2-yard touchdown run by Reliford put Claremore ahead 16-15. Reliford’s second score was set up by Hope’s 23-yard run that got Claremore inside the East Central 10-yard line.
“Our o-line deserves a lot of credit for opening those holes. They did a heckuva job,” Basks said.
A year ago, East Central held off a late rally by the Zebras and survived with a 20-19 victory. That win propeled the Cardinals to the district championship and eventually a place in the 5A state title game.
“We were out for a little revenge tonight,” Gilbreath said. “East Central’s got a great program and last year, they finished No. 2 in the state. Tonight, we buckled up in the second half and got us a huge win.”
Forcing turnovers, though, helped out tremendously, according to Gilbreath.
Claremore came up with four take-aways — a fumble recovery by Caleb Webster and three interceptions (two by Basks and one by Nathan Lollis).
Lollis’s interception with 6:15 remaining in the third quarter halted East Central’s scoring opportunity at the Claremore 6-yard line.
One series later, Claremore quarterback Brinley Brown threw his second interception of the night that returned the ball back to the Cardinals at the Zebras 22-yard line.
East Central capitalized on Claremore’s miscue with a little trickery. Cherry caught an 8-yard touchdown on the reverse pass from wide receiver DC Pitts that put East Central ahead 22-16 with 1:56 remaining in the third quarter.
Claremore regained the lead for good with 10:30 remaining in the game as Reliford’s 5-yard touchdown put the Zebras ahead 23-22.
A strong defensive stand — set up by the tenacity of linebackers Nate Garwick, Hope and Kaleb Hinds — halted East Central once again.
The Zebras rode that momentum for an 18-yard touchdown run by Basks that increased the margin to 30-22 with 6:48 remaining.
Then, 48 seconds later, Basks earned his first of two interceptions that set up Claremore’s final touchdown — a 1-yard run by Walker with 2:55 remaining.
East Central’s Cherry looked to rally his team, but the constant pursuit of the Claremore defense — sparked by Garrett Bossert’s back-to-back sacks in the final two minutes and Basks’ interception in the end zone — moved the Zebras to 3-0 in District 5A-4.
“We put ourselves in the driver’s seat toward a district championship,” Gilbreath said. “We can’t let up against Pryor this week. They’re also undefeated in district, and always a tough opponent any time you play them.
“The Rogers County-Mayes County rivalry on Thursday should be an exciting game to watch in Pryor.”