CHEYENNE – Cheyenne East’s coaches warned their defense to be ready for Thunder Basin to run a reverse late in the fourth quarter of Saturday’s Wyoming Class 4A football championship game.
The Bolts had used a 26-yard gain on a reverse to set up a first-half touchdown, and East’s coaches thought they might call a reverse facing fourth down at the Thunderbirds’ 18-yard line.
Quarterback Ryan Baker took the snap and handed it to Jaxon Pikula, who ran toward the left sideline. Just as he had during the second quarter, wide receiver Andre Fenton took a handoff from Pikula and tried to beat the East defense to the right sideline.
He was stopped in his tracks by East junior Gavin Goff after a 3-yard pick up, and laid flat by senior Jackson Hesford to force a turnover on downs.
The T-Birds scored a game-sealing touchdown a few plays later during their 29-15 victory.
“I noticed their formation was weird because they had been putting Pikula behind the quarterback so they could get some lead blockers in front of him,” Goff said. “When they came out of that timeout, they had him standing right next to the quarterback.
“I saw that reverse coming, so I ran as fast as I could to the other side because I didn’t want to get beat on a reverse a second time.”
East’s defensive line lived in Thunder Basin’s backfield during the second half. It forced 10 negative yardage plays.
“We came out much more focused in the second half,” said senior nose tackle Cael Pugh, who recorded four tackles and a sack. “Our coaches told us at halftime that we needed to just worry about our job because some of us were trying to do too much in the first half.”
Thunder Basin had five errant or dropped snaps during the second half, which helped the T-Birds get pressure. Senior defensive end Bradley Whitright said the cold and nerves were a factor in the opening 24 minutes.
“We weren’t doing what we had been doing all year,” said Whitright, who had five tackles. “We weren’t trusting our abilities, but we started playing our style of ball in the second half.
“We have some real dogs on this team, and it showed in the second half.”
Even when the defensive line wasn’t making the play, it was putting teammates in positions to make plays, East coach Chad Goff said.
“At times, they over penetrated, but they started making it where the running backs didn’t always have an initial drive,” Goff said. “They had to cut quick, and that allowed pursuit to catch up.”
A stiff wind blowing out of the south kept the state’s most prolific passing offense grounded for much of Saturday’s contest.
East entered the game averaging a 4A-best 290 yards per game through the air. It got just 76 against the Bolts.
Senior quarterback Graedyn Buell carried the rushing load early, but East also mixed in fly sweeps to Hesford. Hesford finished with seven carries for 37 yards. Buell totaled 235 rushing yards and four touchdowns on 22 carries. Buell had 67 rushing yards in the first half.
“We thought the outside was a potential weakness in their defense,” Hesford said. “We thought getting the outside sweep was going to be a big key in this game.”
The outside runs were an effort to avoid Thunder Basin’s hulking defensive line and linebackers, Chad Goff said.
“Their front seven is all 230 pounds and above, and we have one guy in our front five who is 240 pounds and the rest of them are around 200 pounds,” the coach said. “This is the best group of blocking receivers we’ve ever had.
“All four of them are in the top 10 in the state in receiving yards, but nobody sees how well they block on the edge. We have a great group of skill position guys who did a good job of blocking on the edge and keeping things moving.”