Clinton and Ada played a game fitting of two legendary Oklahoma high school powers.
The Red Tornadoes held on to beat Ada, 40-22, Friday night at Putnam City Stadium, setting up a rematch from earlier this season between Clinton and Anadarko for the Class 4A state title.
Anadarko, the defending 3A state champion, defeated Wagoner, the defending 4A state champion, in the other 4A semifinal Friday night.
Clinton lost to Anadarko, 28-21, Oct. 5, at Anadarko, the only loss the Red Tornadoes had to a Class 4A team this season.
“I think we are better than them,” Clinton quarterback Garrison Mendoza said. “We've just got to go play our game. It will be fun.”
Mendoza's leaping interception midway through the fourth quarter on Friday night helped seal the victory over Ada, which fell behind 33-7 early in the second half but threatened to make it an exciting finish.
Ada rallied with two third quarter touchdowns to cut the deficit to 33-22 and had the momentum. The Cougars then held Clinton without a first down on the Red Tornadoes next possession.
Ada was seemingly driving for its third consecutive touchdown when Mendoza made a leaping interception — the Red Tornadoes third pick of the game — on the Clinton 25 with 8:19 remaining in the contest.
The interception thwarted the Ada rally, and Clinton seized back the momentum when running back Marquiz Simpkins had a 50-yard run to the Ada 19.
Six plays later, Mendoza scored from the 1, his second touchdown on a quarterback sneak in the game, and the Red Tornadoes advanced to their 14th state championship game under head coach Mike Lee.
Simpkins scored on runs of 24 and 12 yards in the game and rushed for 185 yards on 24 carries.
“He's tough,” Mendoza said. “He is only a sophomore, but he runs like a senior.”
Ada coach Matt Weber knew coming into the game that Simpkins would be a load.
“He's excellent,” Weber said of Clinton's 6-foot, 190-pound running back. “We knew coming in that he was excellent. We thought the key to the game was tackling. We did it some, but not enough.”
Lee called Simpkins “a pretty tough young man. He runs hard and does not back down.”
Ultimately, what doomed Ada besides Clinton's 315 yards rushing in the game was five turnovers. The Cougars had three turnovers in the first half that led to 17 Clinton points. The Red Tornadoes built a 26-7 halftime lead.
Senior defensive back Quinton Hand intercepted two passes in the first half, including a pick that he returned 12 yards for a touchdown to give Clinton a 9-7 lead in the first quarter. It would be a lead the Red Tornadoes would never relinquish.
“We dug ourselves a hole,” Weber said. “I thought our kids did a good job of fighting to get back in it, but they did such a good job of eating up the clock the second half and didn't allow us to run our whole offense. They were kind of dictating to us instead of vice-versa.”
Now, the Red Tornadoes get an opportunity for its 16th state championship, the ninth in Lee's 23 seasons at Clinton. He is 8-5 in state championship games and this was his 19th trip to the state semifinals at the school.
“Should be a great game,” Lee said of the rematch with Anadarko. “We are looking forward to it.”