CHEYENNE – The wicked Wyoming wind did its best to impede on Class 4A’s leading passer in Saturday afternoon’s Wyoming state championship game.
Cheyenne East quarterback Graedyn Buell was held to 76 passing yards – his lowest total of the season – and it was in no part due to the opposing defense.
It didn’t matter, however, as Buell relied on 235 yards from his legs and East’s defense to carry the No.1-ranked Thunderbirds to the state title, defeating third-ranked Thunder Basin 29-15 at Okie Blanchard Stadium.
“I knew the wind was going to be a factor, but I also trusted our guys up front and our ability to run the football,” Buell said. “I knew if we played our football and ran the ball hard, we would be fine.
“And we were.”
It was Buell’s arm, though, that sparked a fourth quarter eruption where East scored 22 unanswered points.
On the first play of the period, Buell hit Jake Rayl for a 28-yard completion down the right sideline. It was only his fifth completion of the contest and Rayl’s only reception on the day.
“Their defensive backs were turning to us instead of turning to the ball and I knew I could make a play on the ball since (the defender) couldn’t see it,” Rayl said. “And (Buell) just put it in the perfect spot.”
The pass caught the defense off guard and on the very next play, Buell broke free off the right tackle for a 52-yard touchdown, cutting the T-Birds’ deficit to 15-13 with 11 minutes, 45 seconds remaining in the game.
It was all East from there.
The T-Birds forced the Bolts to punt on the ensuing possession and just 1:30 later, Buell ran in the go-ahead touchdown from 12 yards out.
Thunder Basin (9-3) quickly marched down the field behind its brutish offensive line and Jaxon Pikula’s rushing attack. The T-Birds’ defense slammed the door shut on that potential game-winning drive, forcing a turnover-on-downs after stopping a reverse from the Bolts, a play which had found success earlier in the game.
East took possession at its own 18-yard line with 3:25 remaining in the contest.
“Our defense stepped up when we needed it to,” East senior defensive lineman Julian Vigil said. “We knew we were going against one of the best rushers in the state (Pikula), and we knew they were going to run those trick plays and those reverses.
“(The reverse) got us the first time, but the second time, we stopped it.”
Buell sealed the game when he hit Jackson Hesford for a 13-yard first down with 1:44 remaining. It was to the point where the T-Birds could run out the clock with Thunder Basin out of timeouts.
But, for good measure, Buell capped off his day by scoring his fourth touchdown with a 64-yard run on the following play. The T-Birds converted the two-point conversion and carried a 29-15 lead to victory.
With the win, East beat every team in 4A throughout the season on its way to an 11-1 record. It captured its first state title since 2013, and third under coach Chad Goff.
Everything seemed to be going Thunder Basin’s way in the third quarter. The Bolts had East pinned at its own two-yard line following a massive punt that was carried by the wind. They capitalized on that with a safety.
Just before the third quarter ended, Pikula ran for 57 of his 238 yards for a touchdown that built on the Bolts’ momentum, and they carried a 15-7 lead into the final quarter.
However, there were still 12 minutes left to play.
“We told (our guys) just to keep playing, we had a full 12 minutes to make things happen,” Goff said. “… They just stayed together, that’s all we asked them to do all week, just stay together, we’re here because we stayed together, we’re going to stay together for these last 12 minutes.”
EAST 29, THUNDER BASIN15
Thunder Basin…… 0 7 8 0 – 15
Cheyenne East……0 7 0 22 – 29
CE: Buell 1 run (LaRue kick), 9:38
TB: Pikula 19 run (Gauhtier kick), 1:00.
TB: Safety, 7:28
TB: Pikula 57 run (kick failed), 0:27
CE: Buell 52 run (pass failed) 11:45
CE: Buell 12 run (Shlabs pass from Buell), 7:55
CE: Buell 64 run (Goff pass from Buell), 1:30
Thunder Basin: Pikula 41-238, Felton 2-29, Baker 7-(minus-9), Lunberg 11-60; Cheyenne East: Buell 22-235, Pugh 5-7, Hesford 7-37
Thunder Basin: Baker 2-6-0 8; Cheyenne East: Buell 7-12-1 76.
Thunder Basin: Shepherd 1-6, Myers 1-2; Cheyenne East: Hesford 4-40, Pugh 1-(minus-3), Goff 1-11, Rayl 1-28