CHEYENNE – Graedyn Buell has another gear to him.
After throwing an interception that appeared to put Friday night’s game against Casper Natrona County out of reach, the first-year Cheyenne East quarterback engineered the game-winning drive.
Buell fired a pass intended for one of his teammates late in the third quarter, but Natrona’s Wilsk Jackson jumped the route and came down with the ball. A few plays later, the visitors scored and looked to be pulling away.
But the cool and collected East gun-slinger took over from that point forward.
Buell followed a long touchdown run with a perfect pass to Chance Aumiller in the back of the end zone with less than 2 minutes to play to polish off a 22-21 upset over the No. 1-ranked Mustangs at Okie Blanchard Stadium.
“Kind of like the Kelly Walsh game where he kind of says, ‘Hey, let’s go,’ and the team rallies behind him,” East head coach Chad Goff said of yet another masterful performance from his young quarterback.
Neither team wasted any time flexing their firepower on offense. The visitors dealt the first blow.
Natrona (4-1) marched down the field with ease on its opening drive, highlighted by explosive runs from running back Dante Wallace and quarterback Kade Stoner. Wallace, a 5-foot-10, 179-pound speedster, capped the drive with a 16-yard touchdown run to put the Mustangs ahead 7-0 less than 2 minutes into the game.
Third-ranked East (4-1) responded seconds later with some razzle dazzle.
Aumiller motioned across the line of scrimmage at the snap of the ball, and all 11 Natrona defenders veered toward him. But Buell pulled the ball back from Aumiller and handed off to Christian Anderton, who went 26 yards untouched for the equalizer with 7 minutes, 56 seconds remaining in the first quarter.
The T-Birds had numerous chances to take the lead, but a handful of dropped passes, overthrows and penalties kept the game knotted 7-7.
After failing to gain much traction on its next few drives, Natrona finally capitalized midway through the second quarter. Runs of 20 and 19 yards by Wallace set up a 22-yard touchdown scamper by Stoner to push the Mustangs ahead 14-7 with a little more than 7 minutes remaining in the half.
East narrowed the gap to 14-10 with a 17-yard field goal by senior Dakota Merritt as time expired to end the half.
The T-Birds looked to build off the momentum generated from Merritt’s kick, but Jackson had other plans. The Natrona defensive back eyed Buell the entire way and cut in for the interception.
“Gotta make a better decision,” said Buell, who threw for 192 yards. “It was a huge deal, but my team came around me and picked me up.”
Down 21-10 with slightly less than 11 minutes left in regulation, Buell went to work. On a pivotal third down, he tucked the ball and dashed 41 yards into the end zone to pull his team within five points.
Then came the heroics.
Trailing by six, Buell lofted a pass toward the back corner of the end zone – in a spot where only Aumiller could come down with it. The 6-foot-2 wideout did just that, scoring a crucial touchdown, as Buell and his teammates mobbed him.
“It was a great throw,” Aumiller said. “I’ll give it to (Buell), he put it down there. It’s all about trust between me and him, and we’ve just got to get going and getting touchdowns. It’s a great feeling knowing that he can trust you.
“(Buell), he just pushes everybody to get better. We can’t ask for a better quarterback than him.”
The drama wasn’t over yet.
Natrona had one last chance and it appeared headed toward the end zone, but the T-Birds’ defense forced the Mustangs to try a 47-yard field goal.
Jhett George’s boot fell short of the goal posts, and Okie Blanchard Stadium erupted.
“This (win) is at the top,” Buell said. “We finished amazing. This shows us how good we are as a team and how good we can be. It’s a big step.
“It’s a building block that we could keep building on and hopefully take it all the way.”
EAST 22, NATRONA 21
Casper Natrona County............... 7 7 0 7 – 21
Cheyenne East……...............…… 7 3 0 12 – 22
NC: Wallace 16 run (George kick), 10:04.
CE: Anderton 27 (Merritt kick), 7:56.
NC: Stoner 22 run (George kick), 7:05.
CE: Merritt 17 FG, 0:00.
NC: Stoner 1 run (George kick), 10:44.
CE: Buell 41 run (2-point try no good), 8:25.
CE: Aumiller 19 pass from Buell (2-point try no good), 1:38.
Casper Natrona County: Wallace 22-175; Stoner 15-164; Pickett 2-4; Brachtenbach 1-8. Cheyenne East: Anderton 18-92; Eifert 1-4; Buell 12-61; Merritt 1-9.
Casper Natrona County: Stoner 5-13-1 25. Cheyenne East: Buell 20-32-1 193.
Casper Natrona County: Bertagnole 2-23; Quig 1-7; Sutherland 1-(minus-3); Clair 1-(minus-2). Cheyenne East: Schroeder 6-50; Aumiller 3-42; Merritt 1-5; Micheli 4-44; Luckow 4-32; Eldridge 1-0; Muchmore 1-11; Anderton 1-15.
Tyler Poslosky is a writer for WyoSports. He can be reached at 307-633-3123 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @TylerPoslosky.