by nathan oster
The Lyman Eagles dashed the playoff hopes of the Greybull Buffs on Friday, winning 36-26 in a game played in Lyman.
Greybull, which needed not only a win but also help from other teams, got none of it, finishing at 3-4 in Class 2A West Conference play — a game back of Thermopolis, which at 4-3 secured the fourth and final playoff berth from the West.
While disappointed about not making the playoffs, Coach Justin Bernhardt had nothing but good things to say about this year’s squad, noting that they “played really, really well” in their finale and gave Lyman a good test, just as they had virtually every other opponent this season.
The Buffs played five 2A playoff teams in 2013, and in three of them, the margin of victory was eight points or less. In a fourth game, the one Friday in Lyman, it was 10 points.
“If you ask me, I’d say Lyman has as good a chance as anyone of winning it all in 2A,” he said. “It was great to see our kids respond the way they did.”
The Buffs reversed one important trend in Friday game. They had been slow starters on the road all season, but at Lyman, they were the ones to draw first blood. A 62-yard pass from quarterback Calder Forcella to wideout Wyatt Nielson gave the Buffs a 6-0 lead at the 11:28 mark of the opening quarter.
But Lyman seized control in the second quarter. Twice, the Buffs saw drives end deep in Lyman territory — once on a fumble, the other time on an interception. Lyman capitalized, too. Just like that, the Buffs found themselves in a big hole.
“We should have gone in at the half at least tied — if not ahead,” said Bernhardt, citing the turnovers. “You can’t turn the ball over against anyone and expect to win — and that’s especially true against a quality team like Lyman.
“If we’d have cashed in those two drives, we’d have been in the game.”
The Buffs drew closer with scores just before half (on a 20-yard pass from Forcella to Kason Clutter) and at the 3:48 mark of the third (on a 5-yard run by Paul Stewart) to pull to within 10 points, at 28-18.
But Lyman scored in the fourth quarter, extending its lead to 36-18, before the Buffs tacked on a touchdown in the game’s final minute to pull to within 36-26 on a 30-yard pass from Forcella to Davila.
The Buffs couldn’t get much going on the ground, finishing with 52 yards on 17 attempts, but they lit it up through the air. Forcella finished with one of his best games of the season, completing 22 of 37 passes for 324 yards.
“From start to finish, I think we clicked on offense as well as we have all year,” said Bernhardt. “We were able to run at a hurry-up tempo, more than in any other game in the two years I have been here.”
Lyman’s rushing attack was the difference, however. The Eagles entered the game with two of the top four rushers in 2A, in Tui Magalogo and Landen Bradshaw, and with the top-rated rushing offense in 2A.
“They have the best running back in the state, and their quarterback is basically a running back playing quarterback,” he said. “I liked our defensive game plan, though. We went in there and weren’t intimidated at all. Our kids expected to win and played like it. We just didn’t get the stops we needed, when we needed them.”
The Buffs put all their defenders at the line of scrimmage, daring the Eagles to throw — and it worked. Bernhardt said he could recall only one big pass play for the Eagles — and it came on a play when a Greybull defender was in a position to make the play but missed the ball by inches.
“The way we were in the game the whole time, as a coach, it was something fun to see,” said Bernhardt.
The Buffs finished 3-5 overall — or 4-5 if you want to count their Week 0 triumph over Riverside. But it wasn’t good enough to get them into the playoffs. Looking back on the season, Bernhardt said the Thermop game is the one that ended up costing his team.
“In all my years of coaching, no game will haunt me like the Thermopolis game,” he said. “We got off the bus and had such a slow start in the first half, but then we came back and shut them out in the second half and played so well. They are a good team. They should have beaten Lovell in Lovell. The way we came back at the end, then having the two, two-point conversions called back. It really felt like we won that game. But on the plus side, it gave our kids confidence to do what they did the rest of the season.”
The Buffs will lose nine quality seniors (more on them and the season as a whole next week), but will return a solid nucleus, including a number of freshmen who had to step up this season. “With as much playing time as they got — and having so many juniors who have now been in the system for two years — I’m really excited about what we’re going to have next year,” he said.
That can wait, though, Bernhardt said. Right now, it stings, not making the playoffs.
“If we’d have got in, I think we’d have had as good a short as anyone of making it to Laramie,” he said. “But the most important thing was, in every game, the kids played to the last whistle.
“Especially in this game, when we were on the road and down by a few scores, they played to the last second. They wanted to be in the playoffs. They felt like they were a playoff team. Even though they didn’t make it, I couldn’t be prouder of the kids for the way they never quit. They played as hard in the fourth quarter as they did in the first, which is a real testament to them and their desire to win.”
Lyman 36, Greybull 26
G — Wyatt Nielson 62-yard pass from Calder Forcella.
G — Kason Clutter 20-yard pass from Forcella.
G — Paul Stewart 5-yard run.
G — Fabian Davila 30-yard pass from Forcella (Clutter pass from Forcella)
RUSHING — Greybull: 17-52 (Forcella 12-31, Stewart 5-21).
PASSING — Greybull (Forcella:) 22 of 37 for 324 yards.
RECEIVING — Clutter 10-133, Nielson 8-132, Fox 2-18, Davila 1-30, Stewart 1-11.
DEFENSIVE STANDOUTS — Payton Gonzalez led with 29 defensive points, coming on 14 assisted tackles and 6 solo stops as well as a fumble recovery. Next in line was Cody Strauch with 25 (16 assisted tackles, 2 solo tackles, 1 fumble recovery), followed by Chris Ogg and Bryce Wright, each with 19 defensive points.