Jan. 19—As I reflect on the 2023 high school football season in Rogers County, it is impossible not to be captivated by the sheer excitement and intensity that unfolded on the gridiron.
Last year was truly a treat for football enthusiasts, and I had the privilege of covering 16 exhilarating games that showcased the heart and soul of our local teams.
What made the 2023 season stand out was not just the historical significance but the plethora of unforgettable moments that unfolded. From fierce rivalries to nail-biting playoffs, the season had it all.
Eight of the games I covered were decided by one possession, and remarkably, five of those were one-point games. Each matchup brought its own storyline, contributing to the overall tapestry of an incredible football season.
One standout was Claremore's remarkable journey to the Class 5A semifinals, marked by two classic playoff games that kept fans on the edge of their seats. The resilience displayed by the teams, particularly in one-possession games, added a layer of drama and unpredictability that made every snap count.
Jeff Hefner's Foyil also emerged as a highlight with a turnaround season, injecting fresh energy and enthusiasm into the local football scene.
It wasn't just about the final scores; it was about the narratives that unfolded, the underdog stories, and the standout performances that defined the season.
Ranking these 16 games proved to be a daunting task, as each had its own merit, whether a barnburner, shootout or a game filled with unexpected twists.
Even blowouts carried compelling storylines and standout moments. In this four-part series, I'll attempt to capture the essence of each game, starting from what might be considered the "worst" (though none were truly bad) to the absolute best.
As we embark on this journey through the fantastic 2023 season, I invite you to relive the excitement, the highs and the lows that made it a year to remember for high school football in Rogers County.
Stay tuned for the unfolding chapters of this thrilling football saga.
NO. 16: MCLAIN 46, CATOOSA 10
Catoosa's promising start with a 70-yard touchdown run by Luke Beauchamp resulted in a 10-7 lead in the first quarter against McLain. However, the Indians struggled thereafter, facing offensive challenges, penalties, and negative plays.
Crucial penalties, including a nullified touchdown due to holding, significantly hindered Catoosa's momentum, and McLain capitalized on Catoosa's setbacks.
One pivotal moment came when Catoosa, trailing 14-10, had a potential touchdown negated by a holding penalty, leading to a series of negative plays and a failed punt attempt. McLain seized the opportunity, scoring with Dennis Nolan's 2-yard run, setting the stage for their dominant performance.
Despite McLain facing penalties, including nullified touchdowns, it managed to finish drives successfully. McLain's Nia Parker delivered a standout performance, returning the opening kickoff for a 90-yard touchdown to contribute to the Titans' lead.
The game featured unusual sequences, including a replayed point-after attempt that cost McLain a point. Catoosa's defensive struggles against McLain's speed and open-field plays contributed to the Titans' decisive victory.
Overall, McLain's efficient offense and Catoosa's challenges, including penalties and negative-yardage plays, defined the game's outcome.
NO. 15: DEL CITY 34, CLAREMORE 13
Claremore's season concluded with a memorable last-minute touchdown, showcasing the resilience of quarterback Braxton Etheridge and receiver Gage Deckard.
Despite their impressive connection, the Zebras faced a challenging start, trailing 21-0 in the first quarter against Del City. Although the Zebras displayed defensive resilience, limiting Del City in the later quarters, offensive struggles and a strong Eagles performance led to a loss in the Class 5A semifinals.
Etheridge orchestrated a commendable 86-yard drive in the final minute, culminating in a stunning 21-yard touchdown pass to Deckard as time expired. Coach Jarrett Hurt expressed pride in his team's determination and effort, acknowledging Del City's strength and the challenges faced.
The game marked an end to Claremore's historic season, reaching 11-2 and equaling the school's win record while achieving a scoring high of 483 points.
The Zebras faced offensive challenges, with the ground game struggling to gain traction against Del City's formidable defense. Claremore's defense displayed improvements throughout the game, tightening in the later quarters and limiting Del City's offensive impact. However, the inability to convert defensive stops into offensive momentum proved to be a pivotal challenge.
Del City's quarterback River Warren and receiver LaDainian Fields played crucial roles in securing the Eagles' victory, with Fields catching 10 passes for 209 yards and three touchdowns.
Despite falling short in the semifinals, Claremore's historic and resilient journey was celebrated. Coach Hurt expressed gratitude for being part of a historic year and conveyed the team's determination to return to such stages in the future. The last-minute touchdown symbolized the team's never-give-up spirit and provided a fitting conclusion to the season.
NO. 14: FOYIL 34, SOUTH COFFEYVILLE 16
Foyil's victory over South Coffeyville was bittersweet as star quarterback Alejandro Flores, who had an outstanding performance with 193 rushing yards and four touchdowns, suffered a severe concussion.
The injury occurred while making a tackle, leading to an agonizing 40-minute delay as Flores lay on the field before being rushed to the hospital. Foyil's coach Jeff Hefner expressed frustration at the decision to continue the game after the injury, emphasizing the well-being of his players.
Flores showcased his extraordinary talents throughout the game, scoring a 54-yard touchdown on Foyil's first play and later intercepting a pass for a potential 96-yard touchdown, which was nullified by a penalty. Despite setbacks like fumbles, Flores continued to dominate, contributing two more touchdowns and demonstrating leadership with around 16 tackles.
The Panthers' resilient defense played a crucial role, forcing turnovers and denying South Coffeyville on multiple possessions, including two stops inside the 10-yard line.
Hefner praised Flores as a special and resilient athlete, emphasizing his leadership on and off the field.
The Panthers, who improved to 2-2, exceeded last year's win total after just four games, showcasing growth and potential for the season. Despite the challenges, including Flores' injury, Hefner expressed satisfaction with the team's progress, emphasizing the learning process and the hard work of the players.
NO. 13: FOYIL 52, GANS 6
Foyil's junior quarterback Flores delivered a standout performance, accounting for seven touchdowns and 267 total yards, leading the Panthers to a decisive victory over Gans.
Flores showcased versatility with 240 rushing yards on 25 carries and a 27-yard touchdown pass to senior Mason Valliere. Valliere, also making defensive contributions with sacks and tackles, expressed the emotional significance of their connection, symbolizing camaraderie and shared success.
The game began with Valliere setting the tone defensively, recording a sack and contributing to a quick three-and-out for Gans. Flores capitalized on the early momentum, orchestrating impressive drives and scoring touchdowns, including a 25-yard run on the opening possession.
Valliere's defensive prowess and wildcat formation runs added to Foyil's dominance, securing a 31-6 lead at halftime.
Flores maintained his exceptional performance in the second half, adding two more rushing touchdowns and enforcing the mercy rule early in the fourth quarter.
Foyil's offense accumulated 387 yards, with Flores averaging 9.6 yards per carry. The defense played a pivotal role, limiting Gans to only 81 total yards and holding them to minus-33 yards rushing.
Foyil coach Hefner praised the team's physical and disciplined approach, expressing satisfaction with both offensive and defensive performances.