Nov. 17—For Claremore, it doesn't get much better than this.
The sixth-ranked Zebras have a chance to advance to the semifinals for the first time since 1987 when they travel 205 miles for a quarterfinal matchup with No. 4 Elgin (11-0) on Friday night.
According to Claremore sports historian Wayne McCombs, a victory would tie the school record for wins in a season with 11, tying the teams from 1959, 1963 and 1977.
It would also be coach Jarrett Hurt's 50th career win. The only other coaches in Claremore's 116-year football history to win 50 or more games are Bear Jensen with 76 from 1954-63, Frank Mobra with 53 from 1968-76 and Benny Ballard with 51 from 1986-93.
Both teams sport explosive offenses, which might produce a classic, high-scoring Class 5A game like Claremore's 48-47 victory over Sapulpa last week.
The Zebras and the Owls are teams that thrive in high-scoring games, going a combined 17-1 this season when scoring 30 points or more. Claremore averages 42.1 points per game, while Elgin averages 49 points.
Although the assertion that two teams that can score in droves often produce high-scoring affairs is certainly true, this 7 p.m. kickoff could be the exception.
Elgin's offensive prowess wasn't at the level it was expected to be in 13-3 and 20-0 wins against Midwest City and Piedmont the past two weeks, so Friday's game in Southwest Oklahoma might become a war of attrition.
"Both of those teams (Midwest City and Piedmont) are running teams, as far as the offense goes, and we feel like we have a pretty good running game ourselves," Hurt said. "Midwest City had the ball in the red zone several times and couldn't punch it in and only got beat 13-3, so that gives us a lot of confidence going into Friday night. Piedmont is a flexbone type of team, where they run a lot of option. We feel like we can do both — we can run the ball and throw the ball ... Whatever they give us, we're going to take advantage of it. From watching film, we feel good about the matchup and feel good about what we'll be able to do on offense. Then we feel good about our defensive game plan as well."
The Zebras (10-1) escaped Sapulpa 48-47 last week thanks to some special teams brilliance that saw them recover an onside kick, return a kickoff for a touchdown and make two field goals.
Although the Owls are a talented team, Hurt said he thinks his unit matches up well against Elgin because of its strength of schedule.
Claremore's opponents have a combined record of 55-61, while the Owls' sit at 47-69. In fact, Elgin has three wins against 1-9 teams and one against a 2-8 team, while the Zebras have only two wins over squads with two or fewer victories.
"We feel like we've played a more difficult schedule than Elgin," Hurt said. "We feel like that's going to show Friday night. But they can stop the ball really well. Their defensive front seven is outstanding, and they get after it. But we feel like, once again, that we have a balanced offense, and we'll be able to move the ball and have success Friday night because of the weapons we have.
"I think we can play any kind of game; we've proven that we can win in different ways," he added. "That's the beautiful thing about our team — we're not one-dimensional. I think we can go win a shootout, or we can go in and grind it out. So however the game goes and whatever the game dictates, we feel like we'll have the weapons and the firepower to come out on top."
SCOUTING ELGIN: PLAYERS TO WATCH
Matthew Lund, RB (No. 9): Lund is one of the best runners in the state, rushing for 1,692 yards and 18 touchdowns while averaging 153.8 yards per game and 11.4 yards per carry. The 5-foot-11, 163-pound senior has run for 100-plus yards in 10 of 11 games with a best of 220 yards on 10 carries in a 55-6 win over Cache on Sept. 8.
Lund can score from anywhere on the field, having scored on a 99-yard run against El Reno in a 54-21 victory. He has also caught 15 passes for 288 yards and six touchdowns.
Claremore unofficially allows about 152 yards rushing per game, but it has surrendered 300-plus to Bartlesville and 200-plus to Bishop Kelley.
"He's had a super year, and their offensive line is very big and physical," Hurt said. "It starts with trying to stop the run when you're playing Elgin."
Colyn Donnelly, MLB (No. 18): Donnelly is a problem for both the opposing offensive line and quarterback, coming in as one of the best defenders in the state with 143 tackles (75 solo) — including 18 for a loss. The 6-2, 210-pound junior also leads the team in interceptions.
Donnelly plays tight end on offense, where his primary role is blocking. He scored the only offensive touchdown of the game in a 13-3 victory over Midwest City two weeks ago.
Shay Spencer, DL (No. 77): Spencer is a versatile lineman at 6-0, 222 pounds. Not only has he accumulated 82 tackles, including 25 for a loss, but he has also notched three sacks and two interceptions, both of which were returned for touchdowns. His 27-yard interception return against Midwest City helped the Owls escape the Bombers with a 10-point win.
"Defensively, their defensive front seven is outstanding," Hurt said. "Their three defensive linemen really get after it, so we know we gotta be able to block in the run game and protect our quarterback when we're throwing it."
A REVOLUTIONARY COACH
Elgin coach Chalmer Wyatt is only 30 years old, but he has been at the helm of the Elgin football program for five years.
In 2019, he took over a team that went 1-9 in 2018 and improved it to 4-5 in his first season. The Owls endured an 0-8 COVID season in 2020, but they have been on a rocket trajectory ever since, going from 4-6 in 2021 to 8-3 in 2022 and now 11-0 in 2023.
"I really respect what he's doing at Elgin," Hurt said. "He's 11-0, and they're 11-0 for a reason. That usually starts at the top with the head coach and the staff, and then, of course, their players in their program. I got a lot of respect for what he's doing out there in Southwest Oklahoma, and I'm looking forward to competing against him Friday night."