Aug. 25—Claremore football faced off against formidable opponents in a whirlwind of intense preseason action, leaving fans on the edge of their seats.
The Zebras' Aug. 18 scrimmage against Class 5A No. 6 Coweta had some especially tense moments, providing an array of emotions for players, coaches and fans alike.
Down 21-20 late, the team was mere inches from a triumphant 2-point conversion, only for fate to intervene as the ball was knocked out of Micah Teel's grasp just before crossing the goal line.
Unfortunately, Claremore's win eluded it with a 28-20 loss to the Tigers at Lantow Field.
Zebras coach Jarrett Hurt's sentiments echo the rollercoaster nature of the exhibition.
"We felt like we were in the end zone with the ball when the ball got knocked out," Hurt said. "The official's arms are up in the air that it's good, and all of a sudden, it's not good. Somewhere in there, there was a decision made that it was not good. Then we turned the ball over later on, and they ended up scoring another one. But we felt really good about how we competed; we had a chance to win it. We thought we had it won at the end."
The contest against Class 4A No. 1 Wagoner brought its own set of challenges and triumphs.
Claremore's resilience shone through as it fought to a 7-7 tie against the Bulldogs on Thursday night. The defense proved its mettle, yielding only one touchdown to a formidable Wagoner offense that averaged 34.9 points per game last season.
Hurt was effusive in his praise for his players, saying, "Our defense has really played well" while also highlighting the Bulldogs' roster full of talent, including a receiver drawing offers from prestigious college and a versatile defensive end.
The scrimmage showcased the Zebras' well-rounded skill set, particularly in the passing game. Braxton Etheridge's impressive performance, going 12-of-14 for 216 yards and three touchdowns — along with Gage Deckard's standout reception record of 176 yards and two touchdowns — underscored the team's strengths.
Eli Rodgers secured the long touchdown for Claremore on a 35-yard pass from Etheridge.
"I felt like we were in pretty good shape and gave ourselves a chance to win it at the end as well," Hurt said. "We had the ball twice at the end with the chance to win, and anyway, didn't get it done. But the kids competed at a high level, and I really felt good about the two scrimmages we had. They were tough scrimmages against good opponents, and we felt like our kids really competed.
"We felt really good after our first scrimmage, and it felt even better (Thursday) night."
Looking ahead to their season opener against Bartlesville, Hurt acknowledged the challenges his team will face.
He highlighted the Bruins' offensive prowess with a great running back, two exceptional receivers and a versatile quarterback. The Zebras, bolstered by eight returning starters on both sides of the field, aim to start strong after past seasons' struggles.
Claremore has played Bartlesville in every season opener since 2018, losing every matchup except 2019 when it won 40-28.
With aspirations mirroring their successful 2019 campaign, the Zebras are eager to clinch a victory and launch their season on the right note.
"That's our goal," Hurt said. "We want to get started off on the right foot this year by going 1-0," Hurt affirmed confidently, encapsulating the team's resolute spirit. "We want to start fast, and we feel like we have the group to do that."