by nathan oster
The 2014 season has arrived for the Greybull Buffs, who open with a nonconference game Friday night against their archrivals to the south, the Riverside Rebels.
Kickoff is at 7 p.m.
While the two teams play every year, this will be the first time in several years that it has counted in the standings. It’s one of only two nonconference games on the GHS schedule — the other being a matchup with Newcastle further down the road.
The Buffs hopefully got the jitters out of their system Friday in Thermopolis, where they scrimmaged the Shoshoni Wranglers and the host Bobcats. They played the equivalent of a half against each team. While it was a preseason scrimmage, with modified rules, the score was kept in both contests. Greybull beat Shoshoni, but lost to Thermopolis.
“We saw a lot of things that will help us,” said Coach Marty Wrage. “It gave us a chance to go live against someone else, to look at things and in some cases move players around and find better fits for some of them.” Wrage said the Buffs were fully scripted offensively and that defensively, the emphasis was on getting kids experience.
The Buffs finished 3-5 last season, coming within a game of qualifying for the playoffs.
There are reasons for optimism, starting with the fact that the Buffs return the nucleus of the top passing attack in all of 2A last season. Calder Forcella was all-conference and all-state, and while other signal callers threw for more touchdowns, none of them racked up more passing yards than the 1,717 credited to the GHS junior.
As a team, Greybull led all of 2A in passing, averaging 214 yards through the air in 2013.
Two of the top 10 receivers in 2A last year return as well, in Wyatt Nielson (33 catches for 461 yards) and Fabian Davila (33 catches for 341 yards). In Thermopolis, they were among the “eight or nine” Buffs who caught a pass — the others being Chris Ogg, Dustin Fox, Riley Hill, Jordan Jackson and Cade Dooley. All of them figure to be in the mix for playing time, Wrage said.
The spots in the backfield, behind Forcella, are also up for grabs, with Dawson Forcella, Dawson McEwan, Marshall Gibbs and Davila in the mix for those.
For any of the “skill” position players to thrive, however, the Buffs are going to have to win the battles in the trenches. The Buffs will go into the open with Elias Ewen at center, Dylan McEwan, Drayton Griffin and Gabe Keisel rotating at guard, and Justin Bacus and Lane Nielson at tackle. Mason Stebner is also in the mix for playing time.
The same group of players, plus Jackson, will be asked to play on the defensive line for the Buffs.
“We’ve got good depth (on the lines) and we’ll use a lot of those kids,” said Wrage.
The grouping of Dawson Forcella, Dawson McEwan, Marshall Gibbs, Riley Hill and Clancy Stoffers will be make up the linebacking corps. The defensive backs figure to be Dustin Fox and Fabian Davila at cornerback, Wyatt Nielson at free safety and Calder Forcella as a “rover” of a sorts.
Wrage said the Buffs are emphasizing running the ball. “We have to be able to do it,” he said. But at the same time, he recognizes the importance of adjusting on the fly once the ball is kicked off. The key, he said, is to take what the defense gives them — whether that be the run, the pass, the play-action or screens.
Greybull didn’t run the ball very well in 2013, ranking 13th in 2A with an average of 133 yards per game. But the Buffs made up for it through the air.
The same held true on defense. The Buffs ranked second in pass defense in 2A, behind only Moorcroft, but were dead last — and by a considerable margin — in rushing defense, surrendering on average 376 rushing yards per game. For the season, opponents racked up more than 3,000 rushing yards on the Buffs.
Wrage said this year’s team will have to shore that up, and points to the front seven as the key to accomplishing that. “As a team ,we’ve got a ways to go as far as tackling,” he said. “We just aren’t very sound tacklers. But we’re working on it, really emphasizing positioning and technique.”
The Greybull-Riverside rivalry has been pretty one sided recently. The Buffs have won the last five meetings, including last year’s, 52-30. Riverside will be looking for its first win over Greybull since 2008.
Wrage said it’s a great way for both programs to begin the season.
“It’s something both communities really look forward to,” he said. “Last weekend (in Thermopolis) was just preseason; this week it starts for real. We are looking forward to it.”
Greybull finished last year at 3-5 overall, 3-4 in the Class 2A West Conference.
Lovell, Mountain View, Lyman and Thermopolis finished ahead of them in the standings.
For the Buffs to crack the top four and make playoffs, “We can’t be turning the ball over — and we need to play a lot better defense than we have in the past few years,” said Wrage.
The teams to beat in the conference appear to be Mountain View and Lovell.
“They’ve had the best records the last few years and they return some quality people,” said Wrage.
The Buffs and everyone else in the conference will be looking to unseat them.
“The kids have been really positive, they’ve been working hard and their conditioning will just keep improving,” he said. “We just want them to enjoy football — and we’re just going to keep improving as the season goes on.”