by nathan oster
The Greybull Buffs took a big step up in competition last week when they welcomed a Big Horn team with 13 seniors, including the one who scored what turned out to be the decisive touchdown in the 2016 championship game.
It didn’t go well for the home team.
After rolling through Tongue River in Week 0 and a young Rocky Mountain team in their season opener, the Buffs couldn’t match the size or speed of the Rams, losing the non-conference encounter 39-7 Friday night.
“We knew Big Horn was the best small-school team in the state,” said Coach Eli Moody. “Several guys on that team will play a college sport somewhere, and on top of that, they have a good, dedicated staff.
“It was one of those games where we were hoping for a good outcome. We just didn’t get it.”
Kade Eisele was a big reason they didn’t. A sophomore at the time, his 10-yard run in the second half of the 2016 title game extended the Rams’ lead to 28-14. It was a game they eventally won 28-20.
A senior now, Eisele led the Big Horn ground attack with 200 yards on 21 carries and also returned a kick for 47 yards. The Rams finished with 303 rushing yards on 41 attempts and gained another 160 on 10-of-19 passing.
The Buffs finished with 337 yards of offense — 137 rushing on 39 attempts and 200 through the air on 14-of-27 passing.
Moody said the Buffs “have all the talent we need to beat them, but we came out timid. We got behind early, couldn’t find any answers and the kids got frustrated. They showed us stuff we hadn’t seen and some of the kids had trouble adjusting.”
The Buffs and the Rams both moved the ball in the first half, but only the Rams were able to punctuate their drives with scores. Carson Bates scored the first one on a 34-yard pass on fourth-and-long from Quinn McCafferty.
After forcing another Greybull punt, the Rams quickly struck again on a 61-yard run by Eisele.
It was 13-0.
The Buffs appeared to be on the verge of cutting that deficit in half. After a pair of nice gainers on passes from Brock Hill to Felipe Gaytan, the Buffs were inside the Big Horn 10, but couldn’t convert. The drive stalled on downs.
The Rams extended their lead to 20-0 on a 63-yard pass from McCafferty to Will Pelissier at the 5:13 mark of the second quarter, then put the game away with three second-half touchdowns — one rushing, one passing, one defensive — to build a 39-0 lead.
The Buffs scored their only points of the game on a 3-yard plunge by JeCorey Qualls late in the fourth quarter. He finished as Greybull’s leading rusher, gaining 71 yards on 15 carries. The Ram defense was locked in on Zack Keisel; he gained 40 yards on 12 carries.
Moody said offensive line play has been, and will likely continue to be, a strength of his team, but that it was neutralized by Big Horn. “Some of their kids were twice the size of the ones we’d seen before,” he said. “They bring a lot pressure.
“But watching the film, it’s true that it’s never as good or as bad as you think it is. There were plays we had good running lanes, but the backs missed them, and there were pass plays where the receiver was open but he dropped the ball, or where the quarterback threw it to the wrong guy.
“We had opportunities. We just didn’t take advantage of them.”
Moody said his team missed Gerardo Corral, a senior who couldn’t play because of a sprained ankle, and credited the team’s two top receivers, Elian Davila and Gaytan, for playing very well on the offensive end.
The Buffs have turned their attention to their Class 2A West Conference opener Friday afternoon at Big Piney. The Punchers are 1-1, having beaten Shoshoni and lost big to Mountain View.
“It’s our first real game, in terms of having an impact on our playoff record and playoff seeding, so it’ll be huge,” he said.
“Offensively, our linemen have to get to their blocks and stay there, and when they do, our running backs need to be able to read the field better and hit the right holes. Defensively we have to be sound. We can’t play timid again, like we did in the first quarter, and maybe the whole first half, against Big Horn.
“Statistically, we were all right. Our offensive was effective; we just couldn’t find our way into the end zone.”
Big Horn 39, Greybull 7
RUSHING — Greybull 39-137 (JeCorey Qualls 17-71, Zack Keisel 12-40, Brock Hill 6-(-7), Caleb Bottom 6-33); Big Horn 41-303.
PASSING — Greybull (Brock Hill) 14-of-27 for 200 yards; Big Horn 10-of-19 for 160 yards.
RECEIVING — Felipe Gaytan 6-97, Zack Keisel 2-37, Bridger Clark 1-9, Caleb Bottom 2-15, JeCorey Qualls 2-27, James Robertson 1-15.
DEFENSIVE STANDOUTS — Keisel again led the defense, this time with 22 points (6 solo stops, 4 assisted tackles and 2 tackles for loss), followed by Ben Kraft with 13 (2 solo, 3 assisted, 2 for loss) and Abe Mendez with 13. James Robertson and Elian Davila also reached double figures in points with 11 and 10, respectively.