DeShawn Kinnard watched a lot of film of Skiatook receiver Jayden Garner.
So when Garner ran about 7 yards upfield and cut back toward the line of scrimmage on a hook route, he was exactly where he needed to be.
Kinnard stepped in front of Garner and tipped the pass from Mason Willingham with his right hand, hoping it would be enough to force an incompletion.
However, in a twisted turn of events, Garner came down with the batted ball and rumbled 60 yards before finally being brought down at the Claremore 22-yard line.
“I was really trying to tip it down because I knew Garner is pretty good at one-on-one balls,” Kinnard said. “I was trying to smack it down, but when I hit it, it didn’t pan out the way I wanted to.”
Garner finished with three receptions for 99 yards and a touchdown while also rushing for 58 yards and a score on six carries.
That was one of several tough breaks the Zebras failed to overcome in a devastating 34-27 loss to Skiatook at Lantow Field on Friday night.
Claremore (4-4, 3-2 District 5A-4) is now locked in a three-way tie with Pryor and Skiatook for the district’s final two playoff spots. All three teams have three wins and two losses in district play.
Only the top four teams of each district advance to the postseason, and with Pryor and undefeated Tahlequah on deck to close out the regular season, the Zebras might be on the outside looking in.
If all three teams go 1-1 the final two weeks, the tiebreaker would be decided by district points. Claremore has the advantage as of now, but Pryor and Skiatook close the season against district bottom dwellers Memorial and East Central, respectively.
Although the Zebras aren’t in a favorable position, coach Jarrett Hurt isn’t quite ready to push the panic button.
“We just gotta keep grinding and fighting,” Hurt said. “We got high-character guys, so we gotta keep our nose to the grind and get ready for the next one. Pryor is our archrival; they want to beat us, and we want to beat them.”
Another tough break came late in the fourth quarter.
Garner had just given the Bulldogs a 28-20 lead on a 7-yard reverse, and a botched kickoff return pinned Claremore at its own 5-yard line.
Following a negative run and two incomplete passes, the Zebras faced fourth-and-11 from the 4-yard line with 4:07 to go.
It seemed like an obvious punting situation, but with only two timeouts remaining and his team’s struggles defending the run, Hurt said he couldn’t take the chance of Skiatook running out the clock.
Furthermore, the Zebras had already converted three fourth downs earlier in the night.
The decision backfired, though.
Charlie Murdock’s pass fell incomplete, and backup Skiatook quarterback Brian Pollard scored only moments later on a 2-yard keeper to make it 34-20 with 3:17 remaining.
Murdock finished with 242 yards on 19-of-32 passing, tossing touchdown passes of 12 and 28 yards to Brooks Sherl and Dylan Kedzior, respectively.
Despite the outcome, Hurt said he doesn’t regret going for it deep in his own territory.
“We knew if we punted the ball back to them, they’d keep it away from us,” Hurt said. “We were having a hard time stopping the run, so we felt like the only chance we had was to go for it on fourth down. Otherwise, we didn’t know if we’d get the ball back.”
The Zebras responded with a slew of trick plays on the ensuing possession — including a 31-yard double-reverse pass to Kedzior — culminating in a 2-yard touchdown run from Jace Hightower with 2:19 to play.
“We practice (trick plays) every week because we have to have them in our arsenal,” Kedzior said. “If we need them, they work.”
Kedzior tied a career high in receptions with 12 catches for 157 yards and a touchdown in helping Claremore to its most points against the Bulldogs since 2007 — a 34-3 decision.
“You never know how each game is going to go,” Hurt said. “That’s the most we’ve scored against Skiatook since I’ve been here, and our previous high was 17. We’re pleased with that, but in the end, it wasn’t enough. It’s a team sport — offense, defense and special teams — and we all have to do a better job.”
Even after the Zebras’ onside kick attempt went out-of-bounds, they still had a chance to force overtime.
Claremore held Skiatook to a fourth-and-3 situation with just over two minutes remaining, but Bulldogs running back Reece Womack easily covered the distance with a 14-yard run to seal the victory.
Much like in losses to Sapulpa, Edison and Collinsville, the Zebras couldn’t find an answer for the opponent’s rushing attack.
Skiatook (5-3, 3-2) averaged about 6.2 yards per carry, finishing with 278 yards rushing. In comparison, Claremore carried the ball 24 times for only 76 yards, 71 of which belonged to Hightower.
Womack led the Bulldogs’ charge with 100 yards on 15 carries, and Willingham was close behind with 90 yards and two touchdowns on 16 carries.
Willingham also completed 6 of 8 passes for 109 yards, including a 36-yard scoring strike to Garner on his first throw for the game’s opening points.
In its four losses, Claremore has surrendered 1,390 yards rushing on 182 carries — 7.6 yards per carry.
“I felt like we really settled down on defense in the second quarter and got our swagger back a little bit,” Hurt said. “I felt like we had the momentum in the third quarter, but they got the momentum back in the fourth quarter.
“It was a shift-in-momentum kind of game, and we couldn’t get it back in the fourth quarter.”