A little sidestep and some speed were all it took for Noah Smallwood to find the end zone.
Facing fourth-and-7 inside the red zone with the game tied in the third quarter, the Claremore quarterback faked a handoff on a zone read and darted left, avoiding an arm tackle in the backfield before running 19 yards untouched for a touchdown.
As he crossed the goal line, “You’re Unbelievable” by EMF blared throughout Lantow Field. It was a fitting tune for Smallwood, who accounted for 312 total yards and six touchdowns to lead the Zebras to a 49-28 victory over Glenpool in their District 5A-4 opener Friday night.
The junior rushed for 212 yards and five touchdowns on 33 carries while also completing 7 of 12 passes for 100 yards and another score.
He scored on runs of 1, 2, 38, 19 and 1 yards and tossed a 19-yard touchdown to Brooks Sherl, who finished as the only Zebra with a catch.
Oh, Smallwood snagged two interceptions on defense as well, bringing his season total to six.
“He put our team on his back,” Claremore coach Jarrett Hurt said. “He’s got a big heart, and he just shows a lot of guts and a lot of determination. He put us on his back tonight and said, ‘Boys, saddle up; let’s go.’ He’s just a phenomenal competitor. He has a fire like no other that burns inside that chest of his.
“I appreciate his effort, I appreciate his leadership, I appreciate his competitive spirit and I’m so proud of his effort tonight.”
Unfortunately, Smallwood appeared to suffer a lower-extremity injury late in the fourth quarter and was promptly replaced by backup Scout Cutsinger.
Smallwood wasn’t available for comment after the game, and though the severity of the damage is unknown at this time, Hurt said he sounded optimistic about making a return next week.
“I know they’re going to go in and evaluate him,” Hurt said. “Dr. (Steven) Hardage does a great job, and he’ll give him an evaluation. Noah thinks he’s OK; that’s what he told me when he left the field.”
Regardless of his star quarterback’s status, Hurt can probably rest easy knowing his defense will provide plenty of insurance for the offense.
The Zebra defense forced six turnovers for a second-consecutive week. This group, led by Smallwood, has 16 turnovers combined in wins over Oologah (4), Catoosa (6) and Glenpool (6).
Claremore registered four interceptions and two fumble recoveries Friday night – all of which came in the second half.
The Zebras held a 21-0 lead with less than five minutes remaining in the first half thanks to three touchdown runs from Smallwood, but the momentum quickly changed when Warriors quarterback Ashton Gorbet left the game with an injury.
Backup quarterback Matthew Vandevander made an immediate impact, completing 5 of 6 passes for 121 yards and three scores in 3 minutes and 28 seconds of game time to make it a 21-all tie at halftime.
However, those miscues were only a minor setback for the defensive unit.
Claremore (3-1, 1-0) forced turnovers on four of Glenpool’s five third quarter drives, turning that deadlock into a 35-21 lead with 6:42 remaining in the frame.
Vandevander connected with Shawn McLaughlin for a 58-yard touchdown strike to make it a one-possession again at the 5:51 mark, but Smallwood and Ryan Conner halted that progress with interceptions the next two drives.
Vandevander threw for 236 yards and four touchdowns with four interceptions on 11-of-22 passing. He completed only 6 of 16 passes in the second half. McLaughlin caught two passes – both touchdowns – for 123 yards.
Smallwood and Sherl put the Warriors away for good in the fourth, connecting for a 19-yard touchdown on the first play of the quarter before each grabbing an interception shortly afterward.
Demetrice Coronado added a 6-yard touchdown run with 3:09 remaining to erase any chance of a late rally.
The senior running back managed 110 yards rushing on 24 carries.
“I’m super proud of our guys for hanging in there, coming out in the second half and playing a whole lot better on both sides of the ball,” said Hurt, whose team held Glenpool to 45 yards rushing on 24 carries – about 1.9 yards per carry. “We were able to put them away there in the second half.”
The Zebras travel to LaFortune Stadium in Tulsa next week to play Memorial (1-3, 0-1). The Chargers fell to district newcomer Sapulpa 61-14 Friday night.