TAHLEQUAH — Claremore found itself behind the proverbial 8 ball from the get go Thursday night and Tahlequah took advantage of the Zebras slow start.
Claremore managed just five offensive snaps for a mere 10 net yards while falling into a 16-point first-quarter deficit on the way to a 37-7 setback to the Tigers in District 5A-4 action at Doc Wadley Stadium.
“We got off to a poor start in the first quarter,” Claremore coach Jarrett Hurt said.
“But I was impressed with the team’s great heart and character that we showed in fighting back the rest of the first half.”
Tahlequah (3-3, 2-1 district) took the opening kickoff and promptly drove 65 yards with tailback Malik McMurtrey going the final 33 yards after taking a pitch around left end for the touchdown with 8:25 to play in the first period.
McMurtrey would finish with a game-high 148 yards rushing on 12 carries. He had 129 of those yards by halftime.
The Zebras (4-3, 2-2) then muffed the ensuing kickoff with the Tigers recovering the loose pigskin at the Claremore 31-yard line.
Talequah needed only six plays—all on the ground—to hit paydirt again with quarterback Tyler Joice scoring from a yard out to make it a 13-0 contest.
After the kickoff, Claremore ran its first offensive play of the night with 5:01 to go in the opening quarter. The Zebras’ drive—its only possession of the period—netted 10 yards in five plays before they were forced to punt.
With McMurtrey taking a pitch for 13 yards and Joice connecting with Kobey Baker on a 35-yard pass to open the Tigers’ next possession, Tahlequah drove to the Claremore 4-yard line before the Zebras’ defense stiffened.
Hunter Smith then booted a 22-yard field goal and Tahlequah took a 16-0 lead into the second quarter.
Claremore responded with what ended up being its only points of the night.
On a third-and-five play, quarterback Scout Cutsinger hit wide receiver Aidan Stimson on an out pattern. But Stimson broke a tackle along the right sideline and then motored to the end zone to complete a 69-yard touchdown.
“When we were practicing this week, we planned to open up the playbook and take some shots (downfield),” Cutsinger said.
“Aidan made an amazing catch and Carson Young made an amazing block on the play,” he added of the TD pass that made it a 16-7 contest with 10:22 to go before halftime.
In the second half, Young would turn in a big pass completion of his own, grabbing a Cutsinger pass for a 42-yard gain.
“We knew would have to throw the ball over the top on offense tonight,” Hurt said.
Cutsinger, who split time at quarterback with Ryan Conner, ended up 4 of 13 passing for 123 yards but did suffer a pair of interceptions.
With Tahlequah in front 23-7, Claremore had a chance to cut into its deficit before halftime, but a 12-play drive that chewed up 5:13 of game time was halted on downs at the TIgers’ 19-yard line in the final minute after a Cutsinger fourth down incompletion.
“We didn’t score there at the end of the (first) half,” Hurt noted of the failed scoring opportunity. “We just couldn’t punch it in.”
A three-and-out on Claremore’s first possession of the second half gave the ball back to the Tigers at their own 18-yard line.
Joice, who rushed for 56 yards, then bolted for 25 yards and McMurtrey took a swing pass for another 14, to put the Tigers inside the red zone at the Claremore 17.
From there, McMurtrey tallied his second TD of the night, stretching across the goal line after a 17-yard run.
That touchdown made it a 30-7 contest midway through the third quarter.
Joice, who hit on 8 of 10 passes for 128 yards, would hook up with Tanner Christian on a four-yard touchdown pass later in the period for the game’s final points.
BK Seago topped Claremore rushers with 46 yards on 13 carries while Conner chipped in 33 more on five attempts.
The Zebras totaled 100 yards rushing on 26 attempts while amassing 121 yards passing.
Claremore continues District 5A-4 action by entertaining Hale for the Zebras Homecoming contest at 7 p.m. Friday.
“Homecoming in Claremore is a big deal,” Hurt said. “We look forward to bouncing back against Tulsa Hale and getting our swagger back.”