By Clay Horning
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — The gruff, relentlessly demanding and fairly self-realized coach that is Geo Claros, leader of the North boys, who has now coached a trio of state champion teams of Timberwolves, was spotted smiling Saturday evening at Oklahoma’s John Crain Field
“I love it for the kids even more than I do for myself. I enjoy it, but when you push these kids so hard, you do it so they can see this reward,” he said. “I love sitting back and seeing how happy they are and proud of themselves and they deserve it. They’ve been the best team all year and they put an exclamation point on it tonight.”
And, if you’re enjoying hearing Claros praise his team, go ahead and pull out a highlighter and run it over that particular word: team.
Because on the way to beating Owasso 2-0, a victory that made it five state titles for the program, three of them since 2010, the Timberwolves not only proved themselves to be the better team, but also the more composed team, the more honorable team, even the more look-out-for-each-other team.
Yes, it’s possible for a mere collection of talent to deliver a championship, but North proved itself to be so much better, deeper and connected than any collage of athletic gifts.
It began with how the T-Wolves put their goals on the board, getting huge plays from Seth Liddell, Sage Moore and Ethan Dvorak; and how they kept the ball out of their own goal, with big recoveries from Liddell and Jake Neighbors.
Those efforts, from the rank and file, proved the depth. Restraint, but only so much of it, proved the honor.
“The whole second half they were just kind of taking free shots at us,” North defender Jacob Jerles said.
There was a lot of pushing and shoving, a lot of jersey pulling, but if that’s gamesmanship, the Rams eventually treated it like the old National Hockey League, when sending some kind of physical message became the point just as soon as victory appeared out of reach.
Carson Cacciatore was taken down hard by Owasso’s Chaz Birkenfeld early in the second half. A free kick and yellow card came with it, though red might have been warranted. But the interesting thing was, as referee Jack Damrill untangled the wreckage, how North’s Cole Johnson was in the face of about five Rams and not backing up.
“I have to step in there and even things out,” Johnson said, though his coach may have said it better.
“Cole’s going to be in the middle of it,” Claros said. “He’s got fire in him and that’s why I love the kid.”
Birkenfeld was eventually red-carded for pulling down Mauro Cichero in the final minutes, so score one for soccer karma.
The worst of it from the Rams came with 13:09 remaining when Colton Johnson, according to T-Wolves on the scene, basically leaned into and put a fist or forearm into the mouth of senior North defender Adam Cooper.
Damrill took one look at Cooper and hurried the North training staff onto the field and this time it was Cichero looking like he was ready to take on about five Rams and it was the Rams who were backing up. Eventually, the linesmen sprinted toward midfield to break up the jawing, yet it was another example of Timberwolves sticking up for Timberwolves.
Cooper left the field a couple minutes later with a mouth full of blood and a couple of dislodged teeth.
“Since Day 1, it’s been a family,” Cichero said. “Any time you disrespect me, my coaches or any of my teammates, I’m not going to let you get away with it.”
What the T-Wolves did was stick together, stand their ground and expose the Rams, at least a few of them, for their classlessness all at the same time.
“You guys kept your cool,” outgoing Norman Public Schools athletic director Frank Thompson told the T-Wolves moments before they picked up their medals. “I’m proud of you.”
Sure, North might have put more goals on the board. After two quick tallies, the T-Wolves might have been a touch content with their lead.
North was so much the better team. The scoreboard was just the beginning.
Follow me @clayhorning
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