CHEYENNE – When Graedyn Buell found out he was moving from Rock Springs to Cheyenne, his emotions were mixed.
He didn’t want to leave his teammates behind, but he was excited about the opportunity in front of him. He knew how tough it would be, especially being the new kid on the team, but Buell embraced the challenge.
“It was a lot of hard work,” he said. “It took a while to learn the offense coming from Rock Springs, learning a brand new offense.”
Friday night, the 6-foot-1 quarterback seemed like he had been running the Thunderbirds’ offense for more than just a handful of weeks. Through the air and on the ground, Buell spearheaded East’s 42-21 victory over visiting Cheyenne South at Okie Blanchard Stadium.
“My guys were perfect up front. They protected me all day,” said Buell, who threw three touchdowns and ran for another in arguably his most impressive game donning the powder blue of East. “My receivers made great catches (and) adjusted to the ball. They make it easy when I have all day and my receivers adjust to the ball. They make me look good.”
It took a while for Buell and Co. to find their groove.
An early statement by South’s defense sparked the opening score. After crossing midfield, East (3-1) faced a fourth-and-1 from the South 44-yard line. But Riley Cooper was stuffed at the line of scrimmage for a turnover on downs, which pumped some early momentum into the visitors.
South (0-4) took full advantage.
Nine plays later, 6-foot-5 Bison quarterback Cade Burns darted 14 yards off left tackle for a touchdown to give his team a 7-0 lead with 9 minutes, 37 seconds to play in the first half.
“Our kids, they believe in themselves and we believe in each other, and we’ve got to continue that throughout the game,” Bison coach Dan Gallas said.
Two penalties and a dropp-ed pass in the end zone threatened to derail East’s next drive, but Buell marched the Thunderbirds to the Bison 26 before a blindside block put them in a third-and-13 situation.
With the pocket collapsing around him, Buell lofted a pass toward the far corner of the end zone in the direction of receiver Chance Aumiller. The 6-2 junior wideout looked over his right shoulder, then his left before hauling in the grab to tie the game 7-7.
East overcame another penalty minutes later to take the lead. On first-and-goal from the 14, Buell fired a laser to Ox Schroeder to hand the T-Birds their first lead of the night.
The drama was just starting to unfold.
A couple of explosive plays put the Bison on the doorstep of the goal line. A 25-yard gallop by Wyatt Garcia was followed by a 44-yard pass by Burns to hand South a first down inside the East 30. The visitors marched inside the 5 with 16 seconds left in the half before Burns thumped his way in for a touchdown to tie it once more, 14-14.
“We didn’t come out and play assignment and alignment football,” East coach Chad Goff said. “We weren’t aligning right defensively. We weren’t tackling who we were supposed to tackle on defense. Offensively, we came out a little stale and we’d shoot ourselves in the foot.”
That changed in the second half.
As thrilling – surprising? – as the first 24 minutes were, one team proved stronger as the other started to wear down in the second half.
After flashing both his arm strength and accuracy during the first half, Buell used his legs to put the game out of reach in the second. He bulled his way into the end zone in the opening minute of the fourth quarter to put East ahead 35-14.
Asked how to defend a dual threat quarterback like Buell, Gallas deadpanned.
“I don’t know, you should ask them,” he said.
The ball coach then smiled.
“He is a great young man,” he added. “He is getting better with every snap he takes.”
Having the ability to bounce back from a tough loss a week ago was a point of emphasis for Goff and his staff. Buell, along with Christian Anderton, who rushed for a game-high 113 yards and pair of scores, led the charge for East.
Four weeks into the season and Buell is no longer the new kid on the block.
“I’m on their team now. They’re on my side, I’m on their side,” Buell said. “Again, trusting my guys and them trusting me.”
EAST 42, SOUTH 21
Cheyenne South…........................… 0 14 0 7 – 21
Cheyenne East.................................. 0 14 14 14 – 42
CS: Burns 14 run (Reynolds kick), (9:37).
CE: Aumiller 29 pass from Buell (Merritt kick), (6:16).
CE: Schroeder 14 pass from Buell (Merritt kick), (2:31).
CS: Burns 1 run (Reynolds kick), (0:16).
CE: Merritt 3 pass from Buell (Merritt kick), (6:38).
CE: Anderton 2 run (Merritt kick), (3:34).
CE: Buell 3 run (Merritt kick), (11:21).
CE: Anderton 2 run (Merritt kick), (10:37).
CS: Garcia 9 run (Silva kick), (2:18).
Cheyenne South: Soto 17-50; Garcia 8-65; Dominguez 4-8; Burns 13-42; Trimble 1-1. Cheyenne East: Eifert 5-48; Cooper 7-19; Merritt 1-(minus-1); Buell 11-47; Anderton 16-113.
Cheyenne South: Burns 5-14-1 125; Trimble 1-1-0 6. Cheyenne East: Buell 17-23-1 204.
Cheyenne South: Dominguez 5-115; Garcia 1-44; Wright 1-6. Cheyenne East: Aumiller 4-65; Merritt 4-54; Luckow 2-10; Arambula 3-24; Schroeder 2-23; Muchmore 2-28.
Tyler Poslosky is a writer for WyoSports. He can be reached at 307-633-3123 or by email at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @TylerPoslosky.