by nathan oster
Greybull and Rocky Mountain renewed their football rivalry Friday night in Cowley, with the visiting Buffs coming out on top 49-7 in their first meeting since the fall of 2008.
A lot has changed since then. Foremost among them, Rocky Mountain is now a 1A, 11-man squad — and a young one at that. After going 4-3 with 11 seniors last year, the Grizzlies flipped the page this fall and are fielding a team of two seniors, three juniors and the rest freshman and sophomores.
The Greybull team that rolled into Cowley Friday night is at the other end of the experience spectrum, featuring 12 seniors and seven juniors, including several who played key roles on last year’s playoff team at GHS. It certainly showed on the field.
The Buffs scored every time they touched the ball the first half and led 42-0 at the half.
Everything was working.
Zack Keisel, Greybull’s only returning all-state performer, showed why in the first quarter, scoring on runs of 5 and 36 yards to stake the Buffs to a 14-0 lead.
After that it was the JoCorey Qualls show. The senior, who transferred over last year from Riverside, scored the next three, and four of the next five, Greybull touchdowns. The first came on a 47-yard pass from Brock Hill, followed by runs of 18 and 3 yards.
A 15-yard touchdown pass from Hill to Caleb Bottom interrupted the Qualls show — but only temporarily. The Hill-to-Bottom connection and ensuing PAT made it 42-0 at the half. Qualls had Greybull’s only touchdown in the second half on a 21-yard run.
By midway through the third, the Buffs had scored seven touchdowns — and, it should also be noted, followed each of them up with a successful PAT. Because the Grizzlies hadn’t scored to that point, the mercy rule was imposed, resulting in a running clock.
The Buffs generated 249 yards on 24 rushing attempts, with Keisel leading the way with 123 yards on eight attempts. Qualls rushed three times for 45 yards. Irving Castro, a freshman, gained 49 yards on eight attempts.
After struggling against Tongue River, the Greybull passing game was a focal point of practice last week and will continue to be moving forward, said Coach Eli Moody. He said he liked the improvement that he saw, noting that Hill “settled down some” and that his receivers “ran much better routes.”
Hill went 9 of 14 for 163 yards. Qualls, with two catches for 52 yards, and Bottom, with two for 47, paced the receiving corps.
“Defensively, even though Rocky Mountain is a younger team, they have a lot of speed and I thought we handled it pretty well,” he said. The cornerbacks and safeties, in particular, did a good job of rising to meet that challenge.
As good as he was on offense, Keisel might have been even better when the Grizzlies had the ball. With 33 defensive points, he had nearly twice as many as any other Buff, finishing with five tackles for loss to go along with three assisted and four solo stops.
Gerardo Corral was next in line with 17 points, followed by Felipe Gaytan and Abe Mendez with 13 apiece and Dade Greene with 12.
The Buffs figure to get a better test this week when Big Horn, a perennial football power, visits for the home opener. Rams are not a 1A, 11-man squad, so Friday night’s matchup will be both a nonconference and inter-class matchup.
The Rams are currently the No. 1 ranked team in 1A.
“They’re a championship team and I think they have a good chance of making it back to Laramie for the 1A title game this year,” said Moody. “They know what it takes to win and they are well coached.”
The Rams will also be “the fastest team we’ve played so far — and the biggest, too,” Moody continued. “They’ve got some big dudes on the O and D lines which we haven’t seen so far. It’ll be a good test for us.”
To win, Moody said Buffs need to be fundamentally sound on defense, wrap up and rally to the ball. “Offensively, we have to execute,” he said. “Our offensive line and running backs have shown what they’re capable of doing. They are playing at a high level. If we can get our running game going, it should open things up passing-wise.
“I think the guys are excited to be playing Big Horn again. Yes, they dropped down to 1A, but it still feels like a rivalry game.”
Prior to last season, the Buffs and Rams frequently found themselves squaring off in the playoffs. Their most recent encounter occurred in November of 2016, when the Rams beat the Buffs 28-20 for the 2A title.