Claremore had the eighth-ranked team in Class 5A on the ropes twice Friday night but could not deliver the knockout blow on either occasion.
In a Highway 20 rivalry between two longtime rivals, Pryor rallied in the final minutes of regulation to knot the game and send it to overtime before clawing back in the extra period with a touchdown and successful 2-point conversion to claim a pulsating 22-21 victory over the Zebras in District 5A-4 action at Lantow Field.
After a Brooks Sherl 8-yard touchdown run and a Hunter Wood PAT kick gave Claremore (5-4, 3-3) a 21-14 lead to start the overtime period, Pryor (7-2, 5-1) responded in a big way.
On its first offensive snap of overtime with the ball spotted at the 10-yard line, Tigers’ running back Bobby Balew was tackled for a 6-yard loss by the Zebras’ Teagan Panther.
The play gave Pryor a second-and-goal from the 16. But the Tigers’ reserve quarterback Bret Elza, who entered the game after standout starting quarterback Ben Ward was injured in the first half, teamed up with wide receiver Josh Gore on a touchdown pass along the back line of the end zone to bring Pryor to within 21-20.
Pryor, which had gone for 2-point conversions after each of its two previous touchdowns in the game, again opted for a play of that variety to try to win the game outright.
On what would be the game-winning snap, the Tigers used a misdirection play with wide receiver Cason Douglas taking a pitch on a reverse around the left side and into the end zone to give Pryor the victory.
“I am really proud of our guys’ effort tonight,” Claremore coach Jarrett Hurt said.
“They left everything on the field. Their effort gave us a chance to win the game.”
Hurt said having the ball to start the overtime was not an issue for the Zebras.
“I felt really good abut going first in the overtime,” he said about Claremore scoring on its second play from scrimmage (Sherl’s TD) in the extra period.
“But then their big end made a leaping play at the back of the end zone,” Hurt added about Pryor’s overtime possession.
“You have to tip your hat to Pryor. They did what they had to do to win the game.”
With Sherl hauling in touchdown passes of 27 yards in the first quarter and 16 yards in the second quarter—both from quarterback Scout Cutsinger—Claremore took a 14-6 lead into the locker room at halftime.
At that juncture, the big question looming for the second half for many was whether Ward would be able to return and play effectively for the Tigers.
Ward was injured with just under seven minutes remaining before halftime when he was sacked on a pass play.
The senior signal caller hobbled to the sideline favoring his left ankle. Elza replaced Ward and finished the first half.
Ward took the field for Pryor’s first possession of the second half, but after a three-and-out, he did not return to action for the remainder of the game.
With running back Demetrice Coronado rushing for a game-high 114 yards on 28 carries, the Zebras used a ball control offense during the second half—Coronado toted the ball 17 times after halftime—as Claremore maintained its eight-point advantage.
Hurt said he knew if his team could make it a two-possession game, the Zebras would be in a great position to pull the upset.
“We felt like we needed to score one more time,” Hurt said. “We just could not get it done, though.”
Pryor marched 52 yards in 10 plays, converting one fourth down along the way, in its game-tying drive in regulation.
With 3:09 to play in the fourth quarter, Elza ended the drive by hitting Thomas on a 7-yard touchdown pass.
Elza then found Balew in the end zone for the 2-point conversion to deadlock the contest at 14.
Sherl finished with four receptions for 46 yards and two touchdowns. He also chipped in 19 yards on the ground with his overtime TD.
On defense, Sherl picked off one pass and had another interception negated by a Zebras penalty.
“I felt like we played our hearts out tonight,” Sherl said. “I know that I gave it all I had.”
“This (Pryor-Claremore) game is a big one for our community,” he added, noting the Highway 20 rivalry between the two schools.
“Having played Pryor as close as we did, I think we can play with anyone when we start the playoffs.”
Playoff action for the Zebras, as well as all OSSAA classes, begins Nov. 13.