CLAREMORE — By the time the Claremore offense started rolling, it was too late.
The Zebras outscored Tahlequah in the second half, but couldn't erase a 14-0 first-half hole on their way to a 21-17 loss in the final regular-season game of the season.
The Zebras (6-4) finished in third place in District 5A-4 with a 5-2 record and will now be on the road for the first round of the playoffs. Claremore will play at Tulsa Edison at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 9 at LaFortune Stadium. The Eagles finished second in 5A-3.
Claremore and Tahlequah played a defensive game for most of the first half. But it was Tahlequah that made the big plays.
Quarterback Tate Christian found a wide open Kobey Baker from 20 yards out for a 7-0 first quarter lead. In the second quarter, running back Dae Dae Leathers, Tahlequah’s all-time rushing leader scored with a 1-yard plunge for a 14-0 lead.
Claremore couldn't get anything going on offense until Jake Gilmore broke off a huge play to the Tahlequah 27, setting up the Zebras' first score, a third-quarter touchdown pass from Charlie Murdock to Matt Wofford. The lead was cut in half with 3:05 left in the third.
After a Tristin Hampton interception, which was returned to the Tahlequah 17 early in the fourth, Christian Gotcher booted a 33-yard field goal to make it 14-10 with 9:30 to play in the game.
Christian struck again for Tahlequah, finding Cole Goodnight from 33 yards out with 8:11 to play, making it 21-10.
The Zebras then opened up the passing game and marched the field in the waning moments. Murdock capped the scoring drive with a 24-yard touchdown pass to Dylan Kedzior with 1:01 left in the game to cut the lead to 21-17, but the ensuing onside kick bounced out of bounds, ending the comeback attempt.