OOLOGAH — High school football has arrived in full force.
Friday night began the unofficial beginning of the season for several Rogers County programs as preseason scrimmages got underway under those oh so missed lights.
Among those taking part in the festivities were Claremore, Sequoyah, Oologah and Catoosa, competing in the annual Rogers County Rumble in Oologah.
The teams battled in two 30-minute running-clock halves apiece, rotating offenses every 10 plays regardless of turnovers. Kickoffs were nixed, so each possession began on the 30-yard line furthest from the end zone.
Limited-contact extra points were performed only after offensive touchdowns.
Here are some highlights from the event:
Charlie Murdock knew the Zebras needed a big play, so he threw to a big-play receiver.
He wasn’t disappointed.
The senior quarterback found a wide-open Dylan Kedzior down the middle of the field, delivering a 70-yard touchdown strike on Claremore’s first play of its second 10-play series against Catoosa.
It was a nice change of pace from the opening possession in which the Zebras managed only 42 yards.
“I saw that safety come up, and I knew Dylan had beaten that corner off the line of scrimmage, so I just threw it up there,” Murdock said. “No one is going to catch him after he catches the ball.”
Once Kedzior gained a few strides on the unsuspecting Catoosa cornerback, he said he had a feeling he’d be getting the ball.
“I was thinking if Charlies sees me, this is going to the house,” Kedzior said. “I think the corner thought I was coming out to block him, so I cut off it and he wasn’t ready for it.”
The scoring play allowed Claremore to ease more into its playbook, and before long the Zebras were back in the end zone.
Murdock slung another touchdown pass not long after, this time on a 13-yard corner fade to senior Quentin Skinner.
Skinner displayed signs of frustration earlier in the drive when Murdock took a sack instead of throwing to the 6-foot-2 receiver, but he said he knew it was only a matter of time before the two connected for a big play.
“Charlie and I have a connection, and at the end of the day, we know we can get the job done, especially with the potential of me, Kedzior and the other receivers,” Skinner said.
That connection goes back to the pair’s sophomore season when Murdock transferred to Claremore from Owasso.
An inquisitive Skinner was one of the first skill players to approach the new quarterback, and the two went on to forge a friendship.
“I told him let’s go out and work, and that’s what I like to do — work, work, work,” Skinner said. “Even when he wasn’t on the varsity level yet, I wanted to work with him because I knew he’d be special.”
Noah Smallwood was running for his life.
Just when it appeared he’d either have to scramble for a minimal gain or take a sack, the sophomore spotted a glimmer of hope.
An Oologah cornerback abandoned his coverage responsibilities to stop the run, giving Smallwood the window of opportunity he sought.
After shaking off a shoestring tackle attempt, Smallwood delivered a flawless pass to senior Carlos Vazquez for a 23-yard touchdown.
“I needed to make sure I had enough space to set my feet and still be able to throw a good pass,” Smallwood said.
It was the Zebras’ only score of the scrimmage.
Claremore coach Jarrett Hurt used the Oologah scrimmage as a testing ground for inexperienced players, and Smallwood was one of many underclassmen to see action against the host Mustangs.
“We saw of our young guys step up and make some plays, and we gave them the opportunity to get in there against Oologah and see what they could do under the bright lights,” Hurt said. “It was exciting to watch some of those young guys get in there and get their shot.”
After experiencing rock bottom with an 0-10 record last season, Sequoyah has nowhere to go but up.
Although the Eagles didn’t find the end zone on Friday night, improvements made during the offseason are already evident.
Sequoyah surrendered a touchdown to both Oologah and Catoosa, but it also limited the damage with some timely goal-line stands.
Eagles coach Rob Gilbreath said he was impressed with the way his team fought.
“We did a little bending but didn’t break, which I thought was good,” Gilbreath said. “It showed some character, and we have a lot of young guys playing. We only have three seniors on the team, so some of those guys stepped up and played well. I thought our effort was better tonight, and it’s gotta be when you don’t have senior leadership, and we’ve been fighting it all year trying to get these guys to fire.
“We were probably out-athleted by both teams we played, but we hung in there and did a pretty good job.”
Chase Gibson saw the mismatch, and so did Blake Salt.
That dual observation alone spelled disaster for the Sequoyah defense.
With less than two minutes to play and only one play remaining in the Mustangs’ 10-play rotation, Salt found Gibson in the back of the end zone for a 22-yard touchdown, the scrimmage’s lone score.
Matched against a much shorter corner, Gibson used his 6-2 frame to ensure the defender would have little chance of keeping the ball out of his hands.
“My guy was at least 5 inches shorter than me, and I had a one-on-one, so I knew I was getting the ball.”
When Salt rolled to his right to make the throw, he had no doubt Gibson would make the play because of his overall strength and impeding physique.
“I know my man Gib has some muscles on him, so I threw it up, and he went over and got it,” Salt said. “That’s all on Gib.”
Wade Bright wanted it to count.
However, as far as he was concerned, it did.
It was his first pick-six, after all.
Thanks to a keen observation, Bright intercepted an ill-advised throw from backup Claremore quarterback Seth Hammer, returning the ball about 30 yards for a touchdown.
“I just did my responsibility,” Bright said. “I saw that little h-back flare out, so I checked him and covered him. The quarterback threw it right to him, and I jumped in front of it.”
Although the score didn’t count officially because of scrimmage rules, it gave Oologah a 2-1 touchdown advantage when all was said and done.
It was the second interception of the drive for the Mustangs. Nowel Christian had the first.
“On that first one, I told them to just kill it so we don’t have any de-cleaters or anything like that,” Oologah coach Chad Weeks said. “It would’ve been a pick-six in a game.”
After a screen pass from quarterback Cody Busch slipped through his fingers, Dylan Velazquez thought the play was over.
But it wasn’t. The whistle never blew, and it didn’t take Velazquez long to notice that fact.
With Sequoyah defenders essentially standing still, the senior scooped up the loose ball, rumbling 40 yards before he was finally brought down.
That awareness paid off a few plays later when he powered his way to a 4-yard touchdown burst for the exhibition’s only score.
“One thing I know is if it’s a backward pass, it’s always a live ball,” Velazquez said. “When I didn’t catch it, I immediately picked it up and took off. They all stopped, so I did what I do best, and that’s take off. I turned nothing into something, and that’s what football is all about.”
Elsewhere, Busch was making his first varsity start with the Indians as their field general.
The junior showed signs of nerves early on, but he eventually settled down and completed some passes.
His biggest play came on a 20-yard pass to running back Gavin Phillips.
“I think he did pretty well,” Catoosa coach Jason Medrano said. “He managed the offense, and he threw some pretty good balls.”