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Claremore middle linebacker Mason Hayes (26) celebrates after returning a fumble recovery 15 yards for a touchdown.

TULSA — Picking up a loose football while on the run isn’t easy.

It is even more difficult to accomplish with only one hand. Mason Hayes learned that firsthand.

The senior middle linebacker broke a bone in his left hand against Collinsville on Sept. 27 and has been forced to wear a cast ever since.

“It’s like being out there with one arm,” Hayes said. “It’s like a nub because you’re trying to block and stuff on offense, and on defense you’re trying to wrap up but can’t grab anything.”

So when Reid Brasel and Ethan Grimett knocked the ball from Memorial running back Jaden Varnes’ hand early in the second quarter, Hayes had to make a decision.

He could either dive on the ball and give Claremore possession inside the red zone, or he could try to pick it up and score.

He went with the latter, and it paid off.

Hayes recovered the fumble and returned it 15 yards for the scoop-and-score with 10:47 remaining in the first half, contributing to the Zebras’ 56-6 demolition of the Chargers in a Thursday game that featured a rare noon kickoff at LaFortune Stadium in Tulsa.

The recovery process lasted only a moment, but he experienced a slew of emotions during that short timeframe.

“It was a nightmare trying to pick it up,” Hayes said. “I was so scared because I didn’t know if I was going to get it.”

Not only was it the second touchdown in nine seconds for Claremore (4-3, 3-1 District 5A-4), bringing the score to 49-0, it was also the team’s second defensive score.

Less than two minutes before Hayes’ score, Aidan Stimson intercepted Kaden Walker and returned it 44 yards for the Zebras’ third pick-six in three games.

“I just read the quarterback’s eyes, and I saw he was looking for the tailback out of the backfield,” Stimson said. “I kind of led him on; I didn’t want to get too close. I read it perfectly.”

Seconds later, Brooks Sherl tallied a third-straight turnover for the Claremore defense with an interception.

Memorial (0-7, 0-4) managed only 91 yards of offense, most of which came in garbage time. The Chargers had 43 yards at halftime.

Memorial’s lone score came on an 11-yard run from Mykell Lofton with 11:47 remaining in the game.

Of course, the Zebra offense was clicking as well.

Led by quarterback Charlie Murdock, the Zebras racked up 318 total yards.

Murdock took care of business early, tossing four touchdowns in just over a quarter of action to finish with 161 yards on 5-of-9 passing.

Those scores came on throws of 18, 48, 21 and 55 yards. His only completion that didn’t go for a touchdown was a 19-yard pass to running back Jace Hightower.

Hightower tallied 88 yards and two touchdowns on four carries, scoring on runs of 34 and 50 yards.

“It feels good, but it wasn’t just me,” Murdock said. “If the o-line doesn’t do its job and the receivers don’t run the correct routes hard, then it doesn’t work out like that. It was good to see us all execute early on so we could relax later in the game.”

One of Murdock’s favorite targets was DeShawn Kinnard.

The sophomore wide receiver was motivated to get back on the field after missing last week’s game against Will Rogers with a concussion, and he showed that desire through his athleticism.

Kinnard went the distance on both of his receptions, scoring on plays of 48 and 55 yards.

His second score was especially impressive, for he shrugged a Memorial defender off his back and broke another tackle before juking his way to the end zone.

“I honestly don’t know (how I stayed up),” Kinnard said. “I just kept my feet moving and gave it all I had, and I just managed to slip out.”

Dylan Kedzior and Sherl also caught touchdown passes.

Although the Zebras are on a new high with their three-game winning streak, the pressure is now at its highest.

With Skiatook, Pryor and Tahlequah still on the schedule, Claremore will see a sudden spike in competition through the remainder of the regular season.

Zebras coach Jarrett Hurt said his team took the last three weeks to focus on itself, and that has done wonders for the players’ overall confidence and morale.

“Our guys approached the last three weeks in a great way with a great mindset because we know what’s waiting on us,” Hurt said. “We have three good teams left on our schedule, and we have to continue taking them one game at a time and see if we can get ourselves in the playoffs.”

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