by nathan oster
A week after an emotional win on the road in Big Piney, the Greybull Buffs experienced the polar opposite in their homecoming game against Pinedale, losing the Class 2A West Conference showdown 21-14 despite a late rally.
The Buffs scored the game’s first and last touchdowns, but in between the visiting Wranglers hung 21 on the scoreboard, doing most of their damage with a punishing ground game that produced 280 yards on 62 carries.
The loss dropped the Buffs to 2-2 overall, 1-1 in conference play.
“Pinedale is definitely a good team, but one of the biggest differences between us and them on Friday is that they came with a lot more energy than we did,” said Coach Eli Moody. “They were way more pumped up to play than we were.”
He didn’t blame it on the distractions of homecoming week. “It’s kind of been a problem the last couple weeks,” he said. “Our guys, they haven’t been real ‘rah-rah’ types thus far. They’re naturally quieter, I think, which is fine. But we have to start coming out with more intensity.”
Neither team scored in the first quarter, a credit to the Buff defenders since most of it played out on their side of the field. The Buffs finally got a drive going late in the quarter, riding nice runs by JeCorey Qualls, Brock Hill and Irving Castro deep into Pinedale territory. Zack Keisel’s 1-yard plunge with 11:16 to play in the second punctuated the drive.
But the Wranglers had an answer. A 24-yard run by Sammy White and the PAT kick with 6:39 to go before half gave Pinedale its first lead. The Wranglers extended it to 13-6 on a 3-yard run by Tyler Van Etten at the 2:50 mark of the third, then again to 20-6 on a second Van Etten plunge, this one covering 6 yards, at the 8:20 mark of the fourth quarter. The second of those Pinedale drives was a spirit crusher for the Buffs; several times they converted on third down, chewing up massive chunks of the clock in the process.
Suddenly down two scores, the Buffs took to the air. Their drive didn’t begin well, as they soon found themselves facing fourth and long. But they brought their fans to their feet by converting it, thanks to long connection between Brock Hill and Caleb Bottom. Moments later, the two did it again, only this time it was for six on a play that covered 49 yards. The Buffs followed with the two-pointer, thanks to a highlight-reel worthy pass and run from Hill to Keisel that made it 21-14.
With 5:45 left, the Buffs kicked off, needing a stop to get the ball back. They eventually got one on a fourth-down stop with 3:42 to play, but the offense was unable to produce the equalizing score.
Pinedale finished with 287 yards of total offense — 280 on the ground, 7 through the air on 1 of 4 passing. The Buffs ended the night with 117 rushing yards on 29 attempts and 147 passing yards, with Hill finishing 7 of 19.
Moody called it Hill’s “best game of the season,” to date, noting that his senior quarterback was “making better reads” and “staying in the pocket better” and that on a couple of his rollout plays, he decided to run or throw “at the perfect time.”
Bottom was by far his favorite target, finishing with three catches for 109 yards.
Moody summed up the night by saying, “You can see in our stats, the highs and the lows. We played the first two quarters pretty well, we had a bad third, but then a very good last few minutes. The energy just wasn’t consistent.”
Moody attributed his team’s struggles defensively to little things. “With the offense that Pinedale uses, everybody on defense has to do their job perfectly or they are going to get yards. The defense played with a lot of effort. But if you have a couple kids missing their assignments, they are going to get yards on us.”
Zack Keisel led the charge for the Greybull defense. On a night when Pinedale ran 66 plays from scrimmage, Keisel was credited with stop on nearly a quarter of them, finishing with nine solo tackles and eight assisted tackles to go along with three sacks and a pass breakup. It amounted to 38 defensive points. Qualls and Hill followed with 20 and Abe Mendez was next in line with 16.
Moody credited his team for showing a lot of heart in the final quarter. “The kids dug in and made it a real game,” he said. “Our last scoring drive was by no means pretty, but the kids had it in their heads that they were going to score. We converted twice in fourth down and had a fumbled snap on the conversion, where Brock essentially flung it up and Zack caught it. It was like nothing was going to stop them on that drive. Hopefully we can build on that.”
The loss left the Buffs with a 1-1 league record and very little room for error moving forward, especially with games still to be played against the conference’s top two teams, record-wise, in Kemmerer and Mountain View.
Greybull will play in Kemmerer Friday. Kickoff is at 4 p.m.
The Buffs beat the Rangers last year, but Moody said, “Kemmerer is night and day from where they were last year. They have a lot of returnees and things are coming together for them.”
Offensively they will resemble Pinedale. “They are another triple option team,” said Moody. “I don’t think they threw it one time last week. So it’s another team where we have to be perfect in our assignments or they are going to get yards.”
“On offense, I’m going to open up the playbook a little more. I think they’re ready for it.”