A strong fourth quarter led the Buffs to the second round.

After taking a seven-point lead into the final period, McAlester picked off a pass, forced a turnover on downs and scored three times on the way to a 49-28 win against Claremore at Hook Eales Stadium in the first round of the Class 5A playoffs.

“I think they’re getting so much better every week,” McAlester football coach Forrest Mazey said. “They just keep firing away and I’m proud of them.”

McAlester (6-4, 5-2) advances to play at Carl Albert (10-1, 6-1) — which took a 48-7 win against Duncan (6-4, 4-3).

The Buffs finished with 433 rushing yards and 86 passing yards for 519 total — and held Claremore to 22 rushing yards, 325 passing and 347 total.

“Any time you get this late if you can run the ball effectively and get some defensive stops, you’re going to have an opportunity,” Mazey said. “I don’t care who you play.

“But Carl Albert’s going to be a solid team,” Mazey said. “They’ve got some good experience, but I like to say that we’re the great unknown; we’re the island of misfit toys — you don’t know what you’re going to get with us.”

McAlester’s Chris Hilton connected with Gavin Johnson on a screen pass for 58 yards on the second play Friday to set up Hilton form a six-yard touchdown run and a 7-0 lead in the opening minutes.

Claremore answered with Charlie Murdock throwing a screen pass out wide to DeShawn Kinnard, who juked his way to a 30-yard score to tie it at 7-7 with 6:51 in the first.

Dylan Kedzior picked off a McAlester pass on the next drive and Claremore put together a short drive before Buffs linebacker Morgan Richards got a sack on third down to force a punt.

McAlester’s Layne Jarrett later capped off an 11-play, 90-yard drive with a 15-yard touchdown run for a 14-7 lead with 7:41 until halftime.

On the ensuing drive, Luke Homer put a huge hit on Kinnard to force an incompletion on third down and a punt.

After McAlester punted, Claremore used 43-yard double-reverse pass to get inside the red zone — but penalties backed the Zebras up almost to midfield and a last-second heave to the end zone was picked off by Killian Barnes.

McAlester finished the first half with 146 rushing yards and 70 passing for 216 total. Claremore had just six yards on the ground and 135 through the air for 141 total first-half yards.

McAlester forced a three-and-out on the opening possession before Hilton lost a fumble. Claremore capitalized with Murdock connecting with Kedzior for a 35-yard touchdown to tie it at 14-14 with 10:37 in the third.

But Hilton responded on the next drive with a 12-yard touchdown run to give McAlester a 21-14 lead with 6:21 in the third.

Murdock threw a 55-yard touchdown toss to Kedzior to tie it up again with 4:35 until the final period — but Hilton came right back with a 33-yard touchdown run up the middle for a seven-point lead less than one minute later.

Hilton added a three-yard touchdown run with 10:28 left to play for a two-score lead before the Buffs stopped Claremore on fourth-and-two from its own 26 yard line.

McAlester’s Hayden Franks then rumbled 26 yards for a score on the next play for a 42-21 lead with 8:21 left to play.

Claremore later heaved to the end zone before McAlester’s Trent Cole tipped and picked off the pass.

Jarrett tacked on a 12-yard touchdown run midway through the fourth before Murdock scored on a one-yard keep to pull Claremore back within what became the final score.

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