by nathan oster
The Greybull Buffs led the No. 1 ranked Class 2A team in Wyoming 12-7 at halftime but couldn’t hold on, surrendering three touchdowns in a 9 minute, 20 second span in the second half of a 28-20 loss to the unbeaten Lovell Bulldogs.
“We knew they were good, but after seeing them in person, they’re even better than we thought they were,” said Coach Justin Bernhardt, whose team dropped to 1-4 overall and 1-3 in Class 2A West Conference play.
One player who certainly stepped for the Bulldogs was their senior running back and linebacker Dillon Pickett, who finished with 205 rushing yards and three touchdowns on 29 carries while anchoring the Lovell defense with 13 assisted tackles and four solo stops.
Pickett did most of his damage in the second half.
Early on, though, the Greybull defense held him in check.
In fact, if it weren’t for a momentum-swinging play midway through the second quarter, Lovell might not have scored at all in the first half. The Bulldogs were facing a fourth-and-long situation at the Greybull 30. Quarterback Beau Green dropped back to pass, but when the Buffs broke through the line, he was forced to his left. With four Buffs closing in, Green managed to get off a pass, but a Greybull defender got a hand on it, sending the ball skyward.
Had the fallen harmlessly to the ground, the Buffs would have regained possession. Instead, it landed in the arms of Pickett, who turned and raced across the field, making it all the way to the Greybull 1-yard line to set up a first-and-goal for Lovell. Pickett cashed it in, scoring from a yard out. With the extra point, Lovell moved on top 7-6.
“You’re thinking it’s going to be a sack for a loss of 10 yards and our ball,” said Bernhardt, calling it one of the two plays that turned momentum toward Lovell. “Then that happened … it was kind of like a nightmare in slow motion.
“But that’s kind of been the thing for us this season, especially on defense. Four guys around the ball. It was as if each of them were waiting for someone else to make the play instead of making a game changing play themselves. Kudos to Lovell though for making the play.”
The Buffs got some momentum back before halftime, though. Wyatt Nielson picked off a Lovell pass with 2:01 to play in the second, giving the Buffs the ball at their own 40-yard line. Aided in part by a roughing the passer penalty, the Buffs marched all the way to the Lovell goal line. Calder Forcella capped the drive, scoring on a 4-yard-run with 18 seconds to play in the quarter.
The score sent the Buffs into the locker room with a 12-7 lead, and Bernhardt said he sensed “a good vibe” from the kids at halftime, especially since Greybull was going to be receiving the second-half kickoff.
That drive didn’t go as planned, however. A fumble gave Lovell a short field, and the Bulldogs took advantage of it, scoring on a 3-yard run by Colin McArthur with 8:15 to play. It was the first of three second half touchdowns for the Bulldogs, who also got runs of 62 and 3 yards by Pickett. Pickett’s final TD scamper came with 10:55 remaining in the game.
The Buffs didn’t go down without a fight. Calder Forcella and Wyatt Nielson connected for a 27-yard touchdown pass with 2:28 to play. With the two point conversion, a toss from Forcella to Kason Clutter, the Buffs pulled within a score. But rather than attempting an onside, the Buffs kicked it deep, hoping they could get a stop. The Bulldogs didn’t cooperate, picking up a couple of first downs, which allowed them to run out the clock.
“We played with them blow for blow, but those two plays — the deflected pass and the fumble — they killed us,” said Bernhardt.
Lovell finished with a big statistical edge, generating 462 total yards to Greybull’s 298. It took a big second half, though. The Bulldogs were credited with just 77 rushing yards in the first half, but cranked it up in the second half, generating 253 on the ground for a total of 330.
Bernhardt credited his kids for their resiliency, saying, “They continue to show fight right to the end, which is something we didn’t always see last year. We’ve played three different No. 1 teams this year, and at no point in any of those games have I sensed any give-up from our kids. They just keep playing, believing, which is impressive. It would sure be nice to get one of these in the win column, though.”
The Buffs suffered two key injuries on Friday night, losing both Kyler Flock and Paul Stewart to shoulder injuries. Bernhardt said he expects Flock to miss this week’s game; Stewart’s status was uncertain as of Monday.
The longest road trip of the season to date looms this week, as the Buffs will be boarding a bus before sunrise on Saturday morning to make the long trip to Kemmerer, where a 2 p.m. kickoff is planned.
With a 1-3 record, the Buffs will need to take care of business and get some help if they want to make the playoffs. But in the topsy turvy 2A West, stranger things have happened.
“If we pick up wins these next two weeks against Kemmerer and Big Piney, we’ll be right back in the playoff mix,” said Bernhardt. “Some things have happened — like Pinedale beating Thermopolis the other night — that have clouded the picture a little. But we just need to do what we can and win the games that are in front of us.”
Through the first four weeks of conference play, Kemmerer is 0-4 and Big Piney 1-3. With wins, the Buffs would move to 3-3 in the conference, which would like setting up a “playoff game of sorts” with 3-1 Lyman in the final week of the regular season.
Lovell 0 7 14 7 — 28
Greybull 6 6 0 12 — 20
G — Paul Stewart 3 yard run.
L — Dillon Pickett 1 yard run (Teter kick).
G — Calder Forcella 4 yard run.
L — Colin McArthur 3 yard run (Teter kick).
L — Pickett 62-yard run (Teter kick).
L — Pickett 3 yard run (Teter kick).
G — Wyatt Nielson 27-yard pass from Forcella (Kason Clutter pass from Forcella)
RUSHING — Lovell 55-330; Greybull 29-113 (Calder Forcella 17-77, Paul Stewart 12-36).
PASSING — Lovell 8-of-17 for 132 yards; Greybull 16-of-27 for 185 yards.
RECEIVING — Greybull Kason Clutter 7-101, Fabian Davila 2-8, Wyatt Nielson 1-27, Paul Stewart 1-3, Kyler Flock 4-37, Dustin Fox 1-9.
DEFENSIVE STANDOUTS — Paul Stewart and Bryce Wright tied for the team lead with 20 defensive points. Included in Stewart’s total were a sack and a pass breakup. Wright led with 14 assisted tackles and 3 solo tackles. Other point leaders included Wyatt Nielson and Kason Clutter with 19 apiece, and Cody Strauch with 17.