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Claremore receiver Beau Parsons lines up for a play during the Zebras’ regular-season finale against rival Pryor on Friday, Nov. 6, at Lantow Field. Parsons was one of several seniors who had their season cut short after Claremore was forced to forfeit its second-round playoff game at Coweta because of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

Jarrett Hurt woke up Friday morning with an awkward feeling. The Claremore football coach had small motivational notes geared toward this week’s game posted in several places around his home.

Much like televisions and other household equipment and appliances, ‘Beat Coweta’ became a common fixture in the Hurt house. They are a football family through and through.

“I grew up in a football family, my wife grew up in a football family and we live for Friday nights, and I know our kids do as well,” Hurt said. Unfortunately for the fifth-year coach, his 6-4 Zebras never got an opportunity to fulfill the message conveyed in those notes.

Just before 3 p.m. Thursday, Hurt learned Claremore had to forfeit its second-round playoff game against Coweta because of COVID-19 issues. The team had already begun practice when the news was revealed.

East Central — which Claremore defeated 36-28 last week in the play-in round — took on the Tigers instead, becoming the second team in the state to advance despite losing. The first was Tecumseh, which played Blanchard on Friday night in the Class 4A playoffs despite losing to Cache last week.

“We were going to get the opportunity to go play Coweta, and then all of a sudden, we don’t,” said Hurt, who found himself taking down the goalpost nets Friday afternoon at Lantow Field instead of going through the typical pregame schedule before a road game. “Awkward is the best way I can describe it. I’ve never ended a season with a win at home in the playoffs. It’s incomparable.

“It’s hard to compare it to any other season I’ve ever been a part of in my lifetime, so I guess you just chalk that up to 2020.”

The Zebras were the second Rogers County team to forfeit a playoff game because of the coronavirus, for Sequoyah suffered a similar fate last week and lost what could’ve resulted in its first postseason win since 2016.

Hurt and Sequoyah coach Rob Gilbreath worked alongside one another for several years when the latter led Claremore from 2008-2015. Hurt was Gilbreath’s defensive coordinator.

“I called coach Gilbreath when I found out he was unable to play his playoff game,” Hurt said. “I just told him how sorry I was. I know how hard he’s worked to turn that program around, and to have such a great year that he had and to get it turned around but not be able to play the playoff game, I felt for him. Now the shoe’s on the other foot, and I know how he must’ve felt.”

Learning of his team’s fate wasn’t the toughest part of the situation for Hurt, though.

He had only a few moments to gather his thoughts before returning to the field to address his team that consists of 12 seniors.

Tears were shed as players and coaches alike tried to find some semblance of closure. All the struggles the team endured throughout the season — from player transfers to injuries and COVID-19 — culminated in that moment of mourning.

“It was tough on them, and understandably so,” Hurt said. “I told our team that this team, in particular, was able to handle 2020 and all that came with it. I don’t know if other teams could’ve handled it like they did. This team just had a lot of chemistry and a lot of unselfishness about them that allowed us to get through the adversity that we had to get through this year. And that’s several things — not just COVID-19. We had several things we had to make it through this year, and our kids did that in a great way.

“We just wanted to celebrate that with them at practice and love on them and tell them how much we appreciate them and thank them for their efforts.”

And there are plenty of accomplishments to recognize and honor. In addition to finishing with both a winning record and a postseason berth for a fifth-consecutive year, Claremore also hosted a playoff game for the first time since 2012.

The Zebras also managed to play nine of their 10 scheduled regular-season games in a year plagued with cancellations. Their Week 9 contest at Sapulpa was the only one called off because of COVID-19.

That success is because of the strict guidelines and protocols set by the school district and football program, requiring masks and social distancing.

“We’re really proud of all our players for following all of the protocols that we put into place,” Hurt said. “They did their very best every day and did what we asked them to do so we could have a season, and we have a lot to be thankful for. We got to play 10 football games this year. A lot of people didn’t get to play 10 football games this year. Our glass is always half full here, and we’re just thankful we got to play 10 ballgames in 2020.

“There’s a lot to celebrate with this group of kids, and what we want to focus on are the positives from the season and the life lessons we’re going to take away from this experience that we’ve had this year and the adversity we’ve had to overcome.”

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