Run, Claremore, run!
The Zebras amassed 428 rushing yards and cruised into the Class 5A state playoffs with a 34-7 win over Grove Friday on Senior Night at Lantow Field.
The win secured Claremore the No. 2 seed in District 5A-4 and a home playoff game on Friday against Tulsa Memorial.
“What a great win for these seniors. They represent the heart-and-soul of this team,” Claremore head coach Rob Gilbreath said. “The reason we’re headed to the playoffs and having such a successful season is a credit to their leadership.”
After a sluggish first half that saw Claremore carry a 14-0 lead into halftime, the Zebras’ ground attack started rumbling and firing on all cylinders.
Claremore senior running backs Jordan Cunningham and James Chester combined for 216 yards on 13 carries and three touchdowns. Cunningham chewed up 115 yards on 6 carries, while Chester had 101 yards on 7 carries.
“We had success running the ball in the first half, and we wanted to capitalize on that coming out of the locker room,” Gilbreath said. “Grove kept blitzing, therefore taking away our passing game, and we countered with a strong running attack.”
Quarterback Matt Whatley scooted 55 yards down the right sideline to put Claremore ahead 7-0 with 6:47 left in the first quarter.
Then, with 6:44 remaining in the second quarter, Cunningham followed the lead block of Chester for a 5-yard touchdown run that put Claremore ahead 14-0 at halftime.
Claremore’s defense created two turnovers in the first half as senior defensive end Grady Caton and senior linebacker Brycen Short intercepted passes from Grove quarterback Jake Spychalski.
The momentum that Claremore gained in the first 24 minutes carried over with a lights out performance in the second half.
Claremore extended its lead to 28-0 as Chester and Short added touchdown runs of 2 and 7 yards to close out the third quarter.
“We knew Grove was going to give us their best game tonight and the first half looked very similar to the Central game,” Chester said. “In this district, none of these games are a walk in the park. You have to take every team serious.”
Claremore’s final touchdown came with 11:21 in the fourth quarter as Chester found a crease in Grove’s secondary and rumbled untouched for a 40-yard touchdown that put the Zebras in control at 34-0.
“Any time I get in the end zone, I always point to the sky and say, ‘That’s one for you, Dad,’” Chester said. “He’s been my inspiration from Day 1, and any time I can honor him, it’s special.”
Claremore’s defense, which ranks third in the state in Class 5A, received another turnover as Brinley Brown intercepted Spychalski’s pass with 5:57 left in the game.
Grove, however, held Claremore’s offense and then found the scoreboard on a 17-yard touchdown run by running back Benny Steffenson.