Mason Hamilton and his top two receivers, Blaine Allen and Tanner Richards, were the last players on Thunder Basin High School’s football field Wednesday night.
Both receivers were dripping with sweat from running routes when they walked off the field, but their quarterback appeared to have his rhythm back.
The Bolts received some welcome news this week when Hamilton, its star quarterback, cleared the concussion protocol. He missed last week’s 68-13 blowout win over Cheyenne South, but will be ready to go Friday for the game of the week in Wyoming Class 4A football.
The Bolts play on the road for the first time on Friday in a No. 2 vs. No. 3 matchup with Cheyenne East, according to the WyoPreps coaches and media poll. TBHS has split with the Thunderbirds the last two years, with East handily winning in 2017 before the Bolts got revenge 34-11 last year.
“Two years ago, they handed it to us pretty well. Last year, we got them pretty good,” coach Trent Pikula said. “I think this is kind of that third year, that grudge match.”
Besides Hamilton’s timely return, one of the main focuses will be on Thunder Basin’s secondary. That’s because East has the top-ranked quarterback in the state through two weeks in junior Graedyn Buell, who has thrown for 668 yards and eight touchdowns.
However, there aren’t many nerves from the TBHS secondary. The majority of Wyoming teams have a run-heavy offense, so the Bolts’ defensive backs are excited to be the focal point.
“We’re embracing it, we’re ready for it. We finally get a good test and chance to make a statement, show the state that we’re best secondary,” Richards said. “We want them to attack us.”
Allen and Richards are the team’s top cornerbacks and they’ll have their hands full with Cheyenne’s main target, Chance Aumiller. He is Buell’s main target by far with nine receptions for 332 yards and four touchdowns this season.
The Bolts won’t assign Allen or Richards specifically to Aumiller, Pikula said. The coaches have equal confidence in both, even though they have different styles.
Richards is a quicker, smaller player that Pikula calls a “bulldog,” while Allen is a big, physical DB who can manhandle smaller receivers.
They’ve been part of a TBHS defense that has been dominant, but it hasn’t faced a test like the Thunderbirds. East has talent and athleticism at almost every position and runs an offense that’s “pretty much identical” to Thunder Basin’s, Pikula said.
Last season, the Bolts contained East’s air attack by putting pressure on Buell early and often. Pikula has the same expectation a year later and he might have the unit to shut down the Thunderbirds.
“I don’t know if there’s a defense like ours in the state,” he said.
Thunder Basin’s defensive starters have yet to allow a point against this season, but this week is different. The Thunderbirds are the No. 3 team in the state and they’ll have a huge home crowd standing behind them.
“They have their home field. I mean, they’re crazy. That’s my least favorite place to play in the state,” Hamilton said. “We’re coming in with utmost confidence. It’s going to be a dog fight, though.”