‘Show no mercy...’
Seven weeks into the season, that’s the message Claremore defensive coordinator Jarrett Hurtt has instilled into his ‘Wrecking Crew’ defense.
And, by the end of Friday’s 31-7 thrashing of the Pryor Tigers, the mission was accomplished.
“Our main goal all week was to stop 24 (Smallwood),” Claremore junior free safety Hunter Garroutte said.
Smallwood, who entered the Rogers-Mayes County rivalry with 1,053 rushing yards on 126 carries and 18 touchdowns, was kept in check by a feisty Zebra defense that held Pryor’s ground attack well below its average at 152 yards.
The Tigers’ tailback scored Pryor’s only touchdown — a 34-yard run in the second quarter that cut Claremore’s lead to 14-7 going into halftime.
“We knew if Smallwood got going, he could be a game-changer,” Claremore head coach Rob Gilbreath said. “...Just last week, he had 382 yards and six touchdowns on Grove.”
But, against the Zebras defense, he hobbled off the field in the third quarter after punishing hits from Claremore linebackers Gage Meisinger, Baron Hope and Jordan Cunningham and never returned.
“Shutting down Smallwood was a big momentum boost,” Gilbreath said.
Big enough that Claremore’s defense helped fuel the Zebras’ offensive explosion in the second half.
Clinging to a 14-7 lead — thanks to Brycen Short’s 7-yard touchdown run and Hunter Garroutte’s 21-yard touchdown pass from Matt Whatley in the second quarter — the Zebras rolled off 17 unanswered points in the final 24 minutes.
According to Gilbreath, “In the locker room at halftime, I told the team that we didn’t want to have another third quarter like we did last week at East Central. We had to come out and set the tone early.”
And, did they (Zebras) ever, especially with a smash-mouth running game — led by sophomore tailback Derrick Reliford.
“We’ve been waiting for Derrick (Reliford) to have that breakout game,” Gilbreath said. “And tonight, he ran hard and was able to get in the end zone.”
Reliford led the Claremore running game with 13 carries for 83 yards and a touchdown.
Claremore’s ability to run at will against Pryor’s defense helped open up the passing game for Whatley.
After Whatley’s first touchdown pass — a 21-yarder to Garroutte in the second quarter — the junior signal-caller connected with senior fullback James Chester on a 7-yard screen pass down the right sideline. Jared Vincent converted the extra point and Claremore jumped out to a 21-7 lead.
Gilbreath said that Chester’s touchdown was set up because of Dustin Basks’ huge punt return that got the Zebras inside Pryor’s 45-yard line.
“We get a big lift from Dustin on special teams, and then (James) Chester’s able to rumble for down the sideline, I knew then that we were ready to take the game over,” Gilbreath added.
Claremore’s defense forced three Pryor turnovers — interceptions by Hope and Garroutte and a fumble recovery by Cunningham — and held the Tigers to 282 total offensive yards.
The momentum continued to stay in Claremore’s favor when Reliford’s 32-yard burst behind the blocking of Sean Pogue and John McQueen set up his 2-yard touchdown run with 8.1 seconds remaining in the third quarter to put the Zebras ahead 28-7.
Claremore sealed the deal with 7:30 left in the game on Vincent’s 28-yard field goal.