By Clay Horning
The Norman Transcript
OWASSO — Just a few days after escaping with their playoff lives in a Crosstown Clash for the ages, the Norman North boys didn’t have to sweat victory nearly so much in the game to reach the game.
Tuesday night at Owasso Stadium, the Timberwolves were flat dominant for 40 minutes and strong enough to keep it together for another 40. By a 2-1 count, they’re back in the Class 6A title game looking for their second straight state championship and their third in four years.
At a location to be named later, they’ll meet Edmond North in a battle of west-side powers. The Huskies were better than Jenks on Tuesday, and that means Broken Arrow should no longer host the state championship game as it moves somewhere more accommodating to both T-Wolves and Huskies.
If North can play that game the way it played the first half Tuesday, it’s hard to imagine anything going wrong.
The T-Wolves (13-3) made it 1-0 when Ashton Bray served up a beauty of a 55-yard free kick for Mauro Cichero to head past Owasso goalkeeper Daniel Finkle 19:02 before the half.
“It’s been like that all season,” Cichero said. “Ashton has like 15 assists, it’s ridiculous. I think 10 of them are to me. We have a really good connection.”
About 15 minutes later, the connection was almost as strong between Garrett Gibbs and Cichero when Gibbs sent service into the Ram box and over all the traffic in front of the net. That left the ball near the end line a few yards from the post where Cichero corralled it and easily tucked it past Finkle.
Gibbs was part of another story as North coach Geo Claros had to shuffle his players to make up for the losses of senior defender Matt Gann, who’s out with mononucleosis, and midfielder Cole Johnson, who tore an ACL in the quarterfinal Clash.
Claros sent Jacob Jerles from the forward line to the back in place of Gann and started Ethan Dvorak in the midfield for Johnson. Jerles was replaced up front by Gibbs.
It all worked.
“I felt like we were the better team going into it,” North coach Geo Claros said.
Even shorthanded, that seemed clear.
The T-Wolves outshot the Rams 13-6 and 8-3 before the half. They owned possession over the first 40 minutes and may have split it afterward.
All told, the Rams (12-1) had two quality chances all night.
The first came on a counter with 22 minutes remaining when Kris Kokis gathered the ball with space and a head of steam, carrying it from not quite midfield all the way into the North box before dumping it off to Jacob Rector, who put it past North keeper Daniel Taylor.
The other came with about 2 minutes remaining when a scramble near the net left Taylor exposed and the ball on the head of Owasso’s Caleb Partin. Partin, though, wasn’t quite in position to square his body and headed it wide.
That was it for the Rams, who failed to turn their possession into the same opportunities North was able to earn on the other end.
“We just kept our game,” T-Wolves senior defender Curtis McRae said. “They just kept coming and coming and coming, but we defended real well.”
It was a little bit like the Clash quarterfinal, when NHS found its game after the half, but only a little.
“In a game like that, you’re going to have to weather a storm,” Claros said. “It just goes with having to win a semifinal. They’re going to throw everything they can at you.”
It wasn’t enough.
Saturday, North plays for another championship.
Follow me @clayhorning