by nathan oster
The Greybull Buffs saw their season end in disappointing fashion Friday night when they lost their Class 2A playoff opener to Wheatland, 21-14. With the loss, the senior-dominated Greybull squad finished at 5-4.
“I talked to the Wheatland coach after the game and we agreed that it was what you want a playoff game to be like,” said Coach Eli Moody. “Two good teams, going back and forth, all four quarters. I wish we’d have come out of it on the other side, but that’s how it goes.”
Only one playoff team gets to end the season with a win. Just four teams remain in the hunt. Wheatland will play top-ranked Buffalo and Mountain View will host Glenrock in semifinal games Friday.
The game was a matchup of the top two passing teams in 2A. Wheatland averaged 176 passing yards per game during the regular season. Greybull was next in line, at 149 with Brock Hill as the triggerman.
So it was no surprise that Wheatland came out throwing. On the Bulldogs’ first play from scrimmage, quarterback Colton Caves lofted a pass high into the air and Dylan Pearson ran under it, gathered at midfield, shook off a tackler and took it in for a score. The play covered 75 yards, stunning the home crowd.
“(Our defender) was in good position,” Moody said of the play, “but their feet got tangled up, he went down and the receiver stayed up. Credit the kid for making a great play.”
The Buffs evened the score in the second half, getting a big play of their own on a 66-yard pass from Brock Hill to Elian Davila. Moody described the play as “one that was supposed to get us about 10 yards and a first down,” but it did far more than that. “Everything hit perfectly and he was gone for 66. Elian made a couple guys miss and Caleb (Bottom) threw a good block to spring him.”
Aside from the two big plays, most of the action into the third took place between the 20s. With the defenses controlling things, the punters were busy. Teams played the field position game, waiting for each other to make a mistake and for someone to make a big play.
It was Bottom who provided it. With just over 6 minutes to play in the third, the junior defensive back made a leaping interception at the Wheatland 48 and returned it for a touchdown, breaking several tackles before crossing the goal line.
“It was a great individual effort,” said Moody, “and one that gave us a lot of energy. It came at a perfect time. They’d been driving the ball on us and our defenders were starting to hang their heads. It gave us the momentum.”
Unfortunately for the Buffs, it didn’t last. On its next possession, Wheatland marched 72 yards for a score, with Caves punctuating the march on an 18-yard run. It was one of those spirit-crushing drives, too; several times, the Bulldogs converted on third down to keep the drive alive.
The game was decided by a couple of big plays in the fourth quarter. The Bulldogs got the biggest one when Caves connected with Kye Hicks on a 50-yard pass play, setting them up deep in Greybull territory. Wyatt Crane followed soon after with a 1-yard plunge, giving the Bulldogs a 21-14 lead with 4:16 to play.
Needing a score to knot things up, the Buffs took over at their own 37 with 4:12 to play. The drive stalled, however, when they went for it on fourth down and the pass from Hill to Zack Keisel fell incomplete in front of the Wheatland sideline.
Wheatland finished with 23 first downs to Greybull’s 7 and outgained the Buffs 351-162. Caves was 10 of 26 passing for 280 yards. His receiving corps was “excellent” said Moody, quipping, “I don’t know if they stopped at a junior college along the way to pick them up, but it seemed like they were jumping 10 feet into the air,” he said.
Hill was 7 of 18 for 96 yards and Zack Keisel — despite a shoulder stinger that limited his effectiveness — still powered the Greybull rushing attack with 76 yards on 12 carries. JeCorey Qualls added 24 on seven attempts.
Moody said he told his kids after the game that they “had nothing to hang their heads about,” that “there were two good teams playing each other hard, until the clock hit zero. Neither team gave up. Neither team got blown out.
“We didn’t achieve our biggest goal, but we still had a good season. We got to the playoffs for the fifth straight year and got to host a playoff game. Those are things to be proud of.”
Unfortunately for the Buffs, graduation will hit them harder than any opponent did this season. Thirteen of the team’s 27 players were seniors. The list included Abraham Mendez, Brock Hill, Calvin Farrow, Dade Greene, Gage Hunt, James Robertson, Zack Keisel, JeCorey Qualls, Ian Vannasdale, Augustus Bercher, Bridger Clark, Gerardo Corral and Ivan Rodriguez.
“A couple moved in, but most played or started in the state championship game and have been three or four year starters,” said Moody. “It’s a veteran group. They brought a ton of leadership. On the field, they were like coaches, helping other kids out. They were a huge part of the team.”
Moody said the Buffs will have some good experience returning next year at wide receiver and defensive back, but will be in rebuilding mode at every other position, including on the offensive and defensive lines, the backfield and linebacker corps.
“Young kids are going to have to step up,” said Moody.
Wheatland7 0 7 7 — 21
Greybull 7 0 7 0 — 14
RUSHING — Wheatland 43-71; Greybull 34-66 (JeCorey Qualls 9-23, Zack Keisel 12-73, Caleb Bottom 7-3, Brock Hill (6 for -29).
PASSING — Wheatland 10-of-26 for 280 yards. Greybull 7-of-18 for 96 yards.
RECEIVING — Bridger Clark 1-5, JeCorey Qualls 1-5, Elian Davila 4-79, Caleb Bottom 1-7.
DEFENSIVE STANDOUTS — Qualls was a wrecking ball on defense, leading the charge with 31 points (4 assisted, 6 solo, 3 tackles for loss, 2 sacks). Hill was next with 20 (including 2 sacks), followed at 19 by Bottom (2 interceptions) and Keisel (fumble recovery).