What left the Owls so devastated was that they hadn’t been pressed except for a couple of times, the closest call being a 13-3 win over Midwest City. And while they were unable to make the big plays late to rally, this wasn’t a game the Owls lost at the end; they had plenty of chances to score and gain some momentum but the longer the Zebras stayed close, the more confidence the visitors seemed to gain.
Nothing the coaches would say in the locker-room was going to ease the pain of losing 7-6 to the Claremore Zebras, especially for the 13 seniors who played their last game together. However, when they come back for their 10-year reunion they will understand this bunch helped put Elgin on the Class 5A football map. Friday, though, it was a time for hugs, tears and raw emotions.
This will be one video that the Elgin players and coaches won’t want to see but like any good program will do, the Owls will look at the video to see how they can take that next step in 2024.
It was one of those defensive struggles and it started from the first possession. The Owls took the opening kickoff and rattled off first downs on their first three offensive plays. They eventually faced a 4th-and-6 at the Claremore 28 but the Owls got the Zebras to jump offsides setting up a 4th-and-1.
Elgin tried the right side with Matthew Lund but despite stretching out to try and get the first down the officials marked it short by a matter of five or six inches. On this night that would be how things seemed to go whenever the Owls got on the Claremore side of the field.
The next two Elgin possessions ended on interceptions but late in the first half the Owls were facing a 1st-and-goal from the 4-yard-line. A false start penalty was a bad omen to start that series deep in the red zone and things went sour at that point as a pass fell incomplete, Lund was stopped for no gain and on a fourth-down try Lund was unable to corral a pass in the right flat as the Zebras dodged another bullet.
While the Owls were not able to convert offensively, their defense was doing the same thing to Claremore and the second half started with zeroes still under both teams.
And after two possessions of the third quarter, one by each team, it was still scoreless. The Zebras missed a 27-yard field goal and that seemed to fire up the Owls’ offense as it earned four first downs, the last at the Claremore 16-yard-line. Two plays netted little and on third down Elgin quarterback Tres Lorah was picked off in the end zone with 3:42 left in the third quarter.
Once again Elgin’s defense came up big, stopping a 4th-and-1 at the Owls’ 43.
Then it seemed the Owls were ready to explode, giving the ball to Lund on three straight plays, the last a dandy 35-yard touchdown run on the outside zone with 11:11 left in the quarter. But the PAT was off-target and that left the door open.
After that the Owls seemed to be snake-bit as the kickoff bounced between three Zebras and Elgin’s coverage team converged, hoping to grab the fumble. Instead they left a seam down the sideline and by the time the Owls caught up the ball was at the Elgin 43.
This time the Zebras were able to put together their best drive of the night, picking up four first downs, the last at the 3-yard-line and from there, quarterback Braxton Ethridge carried around the left side and got into the end zone. The PAT was true and Claremore owned a 7-6 lead with 4:49 left in the game.
That was time for the Owls to have a pair of possessions but after a nice start on the first drive that got to the Zebras’ 32, Elgin was unable to gain another yard and a 4th-and-17 failed to pan out despite some contact in the end zone that the officials didn’t see as a violation.
Elgin did hold the Zebras again and got the ball back at the Owls 24 but there was no magic left as reality set in on the packed home bleachers and on the field.