Despite the cold temperatures that swept through Eastern Oklahoma Friday night, the Claremore Zebras remained one of the ‘hottest’ teams in Class 5A after Week 9.
Behind a running attack that amassed 238 yards on 49 carries, the No. 5 Zebras rumbled past the Coweta Tigers, 35-25 and clinched a playoff berth for the first time since 2010.
“We knew coming in that Coweta wasn’t strong up the middle and our best way to have success was running between the tackles,” Claremore head coach Rob Gilbreath said. “I thought Jordan (Cunningham) had his best offensive game of the season and really ran hard, punishing people and that was big for us.”
Cunningham’s ability to find the holes — established from Claremore’s offensive linemen of Sean Pogue, Tyler Haysler, John McQueen, Brett McClendon, Kelby Haulmark and tight end Wyatt Garwick — helped spark a 21-point second-half explosion that took the wind out of Coweta.
With a 14-13 halftime lead thanks to Caleb Webster’s 53-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Matt Whatley and Dustin Basks’s 68-yard kickoff return, the Zebras carried the momentum into the final 24 minutes and came away with a ‘big-time’ win on the road.
“We were sluggish in the first quarter, but once Dustin (Basks) returned the kick for a touchdown, we got fired up and carried that intensity into the second quarter,” Gilbreath said.
Coweta led 10-0 before Basks caught the short pooch kick at the Claremore 32 yard line and raced up the Coweta sideline toward the end zone for the 68-yard touchdown that got the Zebras on the board at 10-7.
Coweta’s offense, led by quarterback Hayden Holmes, answered with a 30-yard field goal by Caleb Thomas — his second in the first half — to extend the Tigers’ lead to 13-7.
Through the air, Holmes and the Tigers’ passing attack chalked up 223 yards on Claremore’s defense. Holmes completed 18-of-35 passes with two touchdowns and two interceptions.
Down by 6, the Claremore offense rallied behind Whatley’s big play-making skills.
Rolling to his right and escaping the pressure of safety (Hayden) Holmes, Whatley connected with Caleb Webster for a 53-yard touchdown reception that put the Zebras ahead, 14-13 at halftime.
“I’ve said all season long that big-time players make big-time plays in big-time games and Whatley’s pass to Webster right before halftime was huge,” Gilbreath said.
Whatley only threw 13 passes on the night, but his nine completions — including two to Hunter Garroutte in the third quarter were clutch plays that sparked Claremore’s offense.
After Cunningham’s 2-yard touchdown run put Claremore ahead 21-13 in the third quarter, Coweta rallied once again with Holmes firing a 26-yard touchdown pass to Desmond Hill in the right-corner of the end zone to narrow the gap to 21-19.
On the ensuing series, Whatley’s 23-yard touchdown pass to Garroutte extended the third quarter margin to 28-19 for Claremore.
In the fourth quarter, Derrick Reliford’s 25-yard touchdown run put Claremore ahead, 35-19.
Coweta's Holmes came back on the next series and threw an interception to Webster in the end zone, that Gilbreath said was a big turnover created by the Zebras. Late in the game, Coweta cut Claremore's lead to 35-25 on Holmes' second touchdown pass of the night — a 19-yarder to Hunter Raspberry.