by nathan oster
If you showed up late for Friday night’s homecoming game, here’s what you missed:
Offense, offense … and a little more offense.
Greybull and Thermopolis lit up the scoreboard with 35 points and nearly 400 yards of total offense.
And that was just in the first quarter.
By the time all the shootin’ was done, it was Thermopolis that was still standing, as the Bobcats picked up a key 50-21 Class 2A West Conference over a Greybull team that finally found its stride offensively but regressed on the defensive side.
The return of sophomore starting quarterback Calder Forcella ignited the Greybull offense, which had been held in check in back-to-back losses to Big Horn and Mountain View.
Forcella missed the two games with a broken thumb, but you wouldn’t have known it by watching him drive the Buffs up and down the field in the opening quarter. Greybull scored on its first two possessions, as Forcella ran in from 12 yards to cap the first, then connected with Connor Petty on a 24-yard pass for the second. Unfortunately, Thermopolis drove for touchdowns the first four times it touched the ball — and by halftime, it was 30-14.
“We knew going in that they had a good offense,” said Coach Justin Bernhardt. “We also knew that we were going to have to stop the run. They had a good passing offense too, but they didn’t need to use it against us.”
Thermopolis finished with 410 rushing yards on 37 carries — an average of more than 11 yards per attempt. Through the air, it added another 76, bringing its total to 486.
Bernhardt credited his team’s defenders for their effort, but said because it’s “more of a gap control defense,” it was a real handicap not having the team’s four starting linebackers in Cody Strauch, Jesse Chestnut, Bryce Wright and Rob Nuttall, all of whom are injured.
But at the same time, on many plays, the Buffs were in good position, but didn’t wrap up.
“The bottom line is, we just have to tackle better,” he said. “No matter what defense you run … nothing schematically is going to make up for poor tackling and a lack of pursuit.”
The defense did, however, manage to string together a couple of stops in the third quarter.
And the Greybull offense took advantage. Forcella connected with Luke Zeller on a 21-yard touchdown pass, which along with the PAT, cut the Thermopolis lead to 30-21.
Needing one more stop, the Buffs got one in the form of a Connor Petty interception.
Trailing by nine, the Buffs were on the march and had it on the Thermopolis 3-yard line, looking to draw closer with about 3 ½ minutes left in the third. But the drive ended abruptly when a Thermopolis defender, #50, stepped in front of a Calder Forcella pass.
“We wanted to pound it in, because we’d been running it so well,” Bernhardt said. “But Paul (Stewart) was cramping up, and I wanted to take a shot on a slant. Our guy was there and it was open … for just a second. Calder made the right read, he was just a split second late and their backside linebacker made a great play on it.”
Bernhardt said he “could feel the air go out on the sidelines” after that play.
Thermopolis drove down and scored — then pushed across two more tallies in the fourth to account for the 50-21 final.
Despite the loss, Bernhardt saw a lot of positives in his team’s effort. Forcella played “a great game” in his first varsity game that counted, “moving the team really well and making good reads on the zone running plays.”
Paul Stewart carried a big burden as well, rushing 23 times for 144 yards.
Both averaged more than 6 yards per carry, which Bernhardt added was a credit to the team’s offensive line.
In fact, the Greybull offense was only outgained by Thermopolis 486-437.
“Those two turnovers in the red zone were crucial,” said Bernhardt.
The Buffs will try again for their first official win of the season Friday when they travel to Pinedale for a 6 p.m. kickoff.
Pinedale is 1-2. Like Greybull, the Wranglers roughed up Riverside before dropping lopsided decisions to both Lovell and Kemmerer.
“They run a pretty high pressure defense,” said Bernhardt. “Offensively, they spread things out a little bit, their running back runs hard and they have a couple of good pulling guards.
“We saw film of their week one win over Riverside. I definitely think there are things we can take advantage of against them. We just have to keep plugging away. Every week, we learn more. It was hard, having to pick up three new systems. For the most part, our kids have done pretty well picking them up.”
Thermopolis 50, Greybull 21
T — Thomas 4-yard run (Haun run).
G — Calder Forcella 12-yard run (Connor Petty kick).
T — Haun 78-yard run.
G — Petty 24-yard pass from Forcella (Petty kick).
T — Bridges 53-yard run (Haun run).
T — Bridges 12-yard run (Haun run).
G — Luke Zeller 21-yard pass from Forcella (Petty kick).
T — Bridges 9-yard run.
T — Bridges 3-yard run (Andreen run).
T — Bridges 55-yard run.
RUSHING — Greybull 45-295 (Forcella 22-151, Paul Stewart 23-145); Thermopolis 37-410.
PASSING — Greybull 10-of-26 for 142 yards (Forcella 10-25-2-142, Wyatt Nielsen 0-1-1-0); Thermopolis 9-of-13 for 76 yards.
RECEIVING — Greybull: Fabian Davila 4-44, Luke Zeller 2-35, Nielsen 2-32, Petty 2-31);
DEFENSIVE STANDOUTS — Greybull: Luke Zeller led the team with 11 assisted and five unassisted tackles. Logan Jensen had five assisted tackles, two unassisted tackles, three tackles for loss and a pass breakup. Petty rounded out the top three with three assisted tackles, two unassisted tackles, one tackle for loss and one interception.