How big a difference can one performance make when it doesn’t really count and the regular season is still two weeks away?

How important is winning when no prize is attached, not even a notch in the “win” column?

Whatever it is, that’s what Norman North got Thursday night at Moore Stadium. Because Edmond Santa Fe might be first in line in the annual “Best in the West” sweepstakes heading into the 2012 prep football season, yet over 24 minutes of game simulation against the Timberwolves, the Wolves came up short 17-13.

How about that?

It had all the telltale signs of an upstart taking on the establishment.

The upstart, North, drew first blood. The upstart, North, appeared more into it through the first 12 minutes. The upstart, North, was giddy on its sideline, surprising itself even if, to a man, no player would admit it.

Yet back came Santa Fe behind quarterback Justice Hansen — who already has scholarship offers from Arkansas and Missouri — to take a 13-10 lead, even if it took a fourth-and-12 32-yard strike from Hansen to Dale Jefferson to make it so, even if North thought it had Hansen sacked on the play, only to watch him bounce out of senior linebacker Jordan Evans’ grasp.

Then … oh, forget about it.

This could go on forever.

Only a scrimmage, it seemed like every play was huge. Two weeks from the regular season, one that will once again begin with the Crosstown Clash at Owen Field, it seemed like there really might have been something on the line.

So here are the highlights the rest of the way.

n North quarterback Peyton Gavras didn’t hear the footsteps when he was sacked from the blind side and appeared to fumble the scrimmage away with less than 3 minutes remaining.

n Carter Klein — who was beat in coverage on the Wolves’ fourth-down score — redeemed himself by picking off Hansen, North’s third pick of the night.

n Corbin Cleveland made an unreal third-down catch for a first down after North took over with 1:27 remaining.

n Four plays later, North tight end Payton Prince drew pass interference to keep North going.

n Two plays after that, Gavras scrambled forward, but not past the line of scrimmage, then threw on the run to Jake Higginbotham, who took advantage of the play breaking down by outrunning his coverage, for a 45-yard touchdown with 41 seconds remaining.

That’s how North beat Santa Fe.

For the middle of August, riveting.

Oh, by the way, it was Gavras’ second touchdown pass, the first one going 2 yards to Higginbotham. Also, it was a 63-yard pass — an over-the-shoulder beauty — to Higginbotham that set up North’s field goal, a 40-yard down-the-middle strike from Redford Jones.

Also, the way Klein redeemed himself, well, Higginbotham did it, too, because, in between the touchdowns, three plays before Gavras’ fumble, he dropped about a 40-yard completion that just might have gone for 70 if he’d reeled it in.

“That made me know I had to come back and make a big play,” he said.

Boy, did he.

It’s funny because the most interesting story doesn’t usually take place on the field. It’s not the win or the loss, but how the win or the loss changes things going forward, the way it affects the standings, the way it inflates or deflates expectations going forward.

It’s not what happened, but what it means now that it’s happened.

This is different.

The Crosstown Clash will dictate the season-opening narrative. North will be back in front or Norman High will maintain it’s recent dominance (even if that dominance, last season, wasn’t so dominant).

So Thursday really was about what North did.

Gavras, who did most of the quarterbacking overall and all of the quarterbacking when North had to go score now, tossed for a ton of yards and threw a great deep ball.

The receivers, led by Higginbotham, made a bunch of plays. The defense, but for a couple plays it did everything but make, was very good, turning several Santa Fe snaps into losses and frustrating one of the state’s best quarterbacks.

And when it was over, the T-Wolves had more points than the Wolves, a squad, along with Midwest City, everybody has as the class of the western half of Class 6A.

“We have these points on the board,” North linebacker Beau Proctor said, “that tell us we can do what we need to do.”

So it’s still a little about what it means, even if it was only a scrimmage, even if all of it happened two weeks before anything really counts.

Put it this way.

It was something.

North was terrific.

It has to mean something.

Clay Horning 366-3526 cfhorning@normantranscript.com

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