by nathan oster
The Greybull Buffs notched their first win of the season Friday night in Thermopolis, holding off the host Bobcats 33-26 in a nonconference thriller.
The game bore no resemblance to the last matchup between the two schools, which the Buffs won in a laugher, 63-0, in September of last year.
Coach Marty Wrage said he and the other coaches knew it would be different this year. And while the Buffs had the Bobcats on the ropes throughout, they never landed the knockout punch.
It nearly cost them, as the Bobcats were at the Greybull 21-yard-line looking for the tying or potentially winning score with less than a minute to play when their drive stalled on downs.
“They were physical up front, like we knew they would be, with some big running backs carrying the ball,” said Wrage. “And we started wearing down toward the end.
“Thermopolis is going to cause some problems for teams in the (2A) East (Conference).”
The game started in a very positive fashion for the Buffs when Zack Keisel intercepted a pass and returned it to the Thermopolis 3 yard line. Two players later, Brayan Castro scampered around the right side for the game’s first score.
After forcing Thermopolis to punt, the Buffs extended their lead to 12-0 on another Castro run, this one covering 40 yards.
Each team scored in the second quarter — Thermopolis on a 67-yard run, the Buffs on a pass from Riley Hill to David Bottom — to send the game into the half with Greybull holding a 20-6 lead.
The second half followed a similar script, as the Buffs were always able to stay a step ahead of the Bobcats.
When Thermop scored to draw within eight, at 20-12, the Buffs responded on their next drive with a 6-yard touchdown run from Castro to go back up 26-12.
And when Thermop scored again to pull back to within six, at 26-20, the Buffs answered once again. It came in lightning quick fashion when Castro returned the ensuring kickoff 84 yards for a score. The PAT made it 33-20.
“At that point, we needed a big play of some sort,” said Wrage of the kickoff return. “They kicked it down into the corner, and we actually had a middle return on. Brayan bobbled it a little bit, which actually helped because they got closer to him. Once he got back to the middle, there was a nice opening for him.”
But from that point on, it was white-knuckle time for the Buffs.
The Bobcats pulled back within seven on a touchdown pass with 6:06 to play in the fourth, and after a big defensive stop, got the ball back with 4:47 to play.
They needed just a single touchdown and extra point to tie the game, but saw their drive stall deep in Greybull territory when a fourth-down pass missed its mark. Korbin Adams was defending on the play for the Buffs.
Wrage said that as the game wore on, his team wore down. The Buffs have new starters at several positions on both sides of the ball — and unfortunately, depth isn’t where it needs to be at this point, meaning those new players are often having to play both ways.
“We’re hoping it all comes together at about the same time – the kids we have getting in better condition and us developing the kind of depth we need so that we can rest people a little more often.”
He continued, “The defense held on when they had to at the end of the game, though. They gained some yards on us and did some things in the running game. But we held them when we needed to.”
Wrage said his team ran the ball better against Thermop than it did against Glenrock and credited his young offensive line for giving Hill the time he needed to find open receivers.
“We grew up a little bit,” he said. “Late in the game when I thought they were wearing down, they didn’t let them get to Riley when he went back to pass and we rushed for more yards than we did early on. They locked in and did a nice job.”
Greybull doesn’t have a senior in its offensive line rotation, which includes juniors Dade Greene, Gage Hunt, Abraham Mendez and Calvin Farrow and sophomores Ben Kraft and Carlos Garay.
The Buffs finished with 120 rushing yards on 29 attempts.
Riley Hill completed 12 of 19 passes for 94 yards. His brother Brock was his favorite target, catching six passes for 37 yards.
Gerardo Corral led the defense with 29 points, including two tackles for loss and a quarterback sack. Zack Keisel was next in line with 24, followed by Riley Hill with 16.
The Buffs will open Class 2A West Conference play with a 4 p.m. home game against Big Piney on Friday afternoon. Big Piney will enter at 1-1.
“They’ve been young the last few years so they have a lot of veterans and some good speed,” said Wrage. “They run multiple forms of a spread offense so a key for us is going to be taking care of the perimeter.
“And on offense, we need to be able to throw and run the ball.”
Wrage said, “There’s more parity than we’ve had in the last four years” in the conference and that it’ll be important for his team to get off to a positive start.