BARTLESVILLE — Ethan Grimett knew what was coming.
The sophomore middle linebacker spent hours studying Bartlesville’s tendencies and formations in the week leading up to the season opener, and though Claremore’s once 26-point lead had dwindled to five with less than four minutes to play, an astute observation ensured it would be the greatest comeback that never was.
Bruins quarterback Ben Winters had thrown three touchdowns on his previous five passes, but Grimett read this play perfectly, intercepting a slant pass at midfield to seal a 40-28 victory for the Class 5A No. 7 Zebras at Custer Stadium on Friday night.
“We’ve been preparing for that pass all week long at practice,” Grimett said. “We’ve been heavy on that pass. Earlier in the game, I missed it by a little bit. At the end, I knew it was coming. We called it out, and I just happened to be there at the right time.
“My mind was saying, ‘Just don’t drop it,’” Grimett said. “I didn’t want to look like a fool.”
It was Claremore’s first win in school history over Bartlesville, ending the Bruins’ five-game stranglehold on the series.
Zebras coach Jarrett Hurt said history wasn’t on their side, but that didn’t stop his squad from seizing its moment.
“We were hurting, but our guys found a way to get it done,” Hurt said. “We’re the first team to beat the Bartlesville Bruins. We’ve beaten College High and we’ve beaten Sooner High, but Claremore football has never beaten the Bartlesville Bruins. It took all of us tonight. I’m proud of our guys for finding a way, digging down deep and when it looked bleak, they found a way to close it out.”
Claremore led 33-28 with 3:30 remaining after the interception, but it wasn’t quite satisfied.
Led by running back DeShawn Kinnard, the Zebras drove 44 yards in three minutes and five seconds, with quarterback Charlie Murdock capping the drive and the game with a 3-yard sneak.
Kinnard was the primary replacement for star Jace Hightower, who dislocated an elbow in a half-game scrimmage against Wagoner on Aug. 29.
With two minutes remaining and Claremore facing a third-and-9 from the Bartlesville 43-yard line, the sophomore broke free along the west sideline for a 33-yard gain, his longest of the night.
The run forced the Class 6A-II No. 6 Bruins to use their final timeout, ending their unprecedented rally just short.
“We had to have it,” Hurt said of Kinnard’s run. “If we don’t get that run right there, it was going to be hard on us. DeShawn and Demetrice (Coronado) both stepped up at tailback tonight and did the best they could.”
Kinnard finished with 92 yards rushing on 20 carries, while Coronado notched 25 yards on six touches.
Kinnard also snagged a 21-yard touchdown pass from Murdock a play after the defense forced a turnover on downs, giving the Zebras a 33-14 lead with 8:24 left in the fourth quarter.
“I thought he did a great job,” Murdock said of his new backfield partner. “Him and Demetrice did great back there. They had no fumbles on the night, and they both took care of the ball. When DeShawn got that big run, that’s when I knew the game was ours.”
But how did Claremore (1-0) reach such a desperate situation late in the game?
After the Zebras stormed to a 26-0 halftime lead, the game looked all but over.
To put it even more in perspective, Claremore held Bartlesville to minus-6 yards rushing and 27 yards overall in the first half.
However, the Bruins (0-1) emerged from the locker room a different team, scoring 28 of the next 35 points to come within five with 6:46 remaining.
Winters led the charge with touchdown tosses of 5, 13 and 45 yards, the latter two of which — courtesy of an onside kick recovery — came within 10 seconds of each other at the 6:56 and 6:46 marks in the fourth quarter.
He tallied six completions on 16 throws for 146 yards. Three of his four second-half completions resulted in touchdowns.
Shane Simpson led Bartlesville with 120 yards receiving and a touchdown on three receptions. Seth Long and Caleb Perry accounted for scores in the passing game as well.
The other Bruins score came on a 50-yard interception return from Caden Davis with 6:46 remaining in the third for the team’s first points of the game.
“They got the momentum, and we let them back in the game by doing some things that weren’t so smart,” Hurt said. “It was an accumulation of things that got us in the pickle we were in.”
That pick-six was Murdock’s lone blunder, though, and despite Bartlesville’s tight coverage early, the senior quarterback went on to complete 20 of 28 passes for 261 yards and four touchdowns while also rushing for 30 yards and a score.
Murdock more than atoned for his errant throw, completing five of his next seven passes for 51 yards.
Murdock said he has always had a calm demeanor, which helped him quickly and swiftly move on from the interception.
“I knew I had to stay calm, stay poised and respond in the right way,” Murdock said. “I did get a little worried, I’m not going to lie. But I had faith in us, and I know the type of kids on our team. We’re strong-willed and tough, so I knew we’d get it done and get another chance to go seal the deal, and that’s exactly what happened.”
He connected with Quentin Skinner for touchdowns of 47 and 14 yards before hitting Dylan Kedzior for a 57-yard scoring strike. All three scores assisted Claremore in accumulating its massive first-half lead.
Kedzior led the Zebras with 115 yards on seven receptions, and Skinner had four catches for 93 yards.
The Zebras struck first on a 20-yard field goal from Christian Gotcher with 5:21 remaining in the first quarter.
Claremore hosts Sapulpa (1-0) in the home opener on the newly resurfaced turf at Lantow Field on Friday night.
The Chieftains, which beat the Zebras 27-0 last season, defeated Edison, 21-13, in their season opener.