By Joe Whalen
The season finale for Montana State University-Northern football may have been played at daytime, but the Lights' 31-28 overtime defeat of Rocky Mountain College ultimately turned on the heels of a knight.
After missing two field goal attempts and having one extra point blocked in regulation, freshman kicker David Knight, a Havre High graduate, drilled a 28-yarder on the Lights' initial possession of overtime to give the program its first victory over the Bears since the rebirth of Northern football in 1999.
The Lights (3-8) last defeated Rocky in 1969. Northern football fell dormant in 1972 and remained inactive for 27 years.
"I knew I was due," Knight said. "I had missed left, missed right, and been blocked. I had already used up all my options. Falling short was the only one I hadn't done, but I knew that wouldn't happen. I put enough leg into (the kick), and it was going over no matter what."
As Northern's bench emptied and its players mobbed Knight near the 25-yard line at the west end of Blue Pony Stadium, chaos briefly reigned near the opposite goal line.
Marlon Grier of Rocky, a senior linebacker from Charlotte, N.C., playing in the final game of his college career, sprinted about 60 yards, according to former Havre High activities director Charlie Klimas, and knocked down Rick Deady, an umpire. Grier was immediately arrested by an officer from the Hill County Sheriff's Department on a charge of assaulting a sports official and was led away in handcuffs. He was released two hours later after assistant coaches from Rocky made arrangements to post bond of $530.
"I saw that kid come and drill that poor old official in the back," Northern coach Walt Currie said. "I went across the field to shake the Rocky coaches' hands, but there were none around. I guess they went down the field to break up the donnybrook. In 30-some years of coaching, I've never seen anything like that happen."
The alleged assault did not, however, spoil Northern's victory celebration on the field.
After nearly letting the game slip away by squandering a 14-point lead, Northern saw two Bears' touchdowns called back by penalties with the score tied. Rocky junior Travis Salter returned a punt 67 yards, crossing the goal line with five seconds on the clock, but the apparent score was nullified by an illegal block. Moments before Rocky (3-7) failed to convert a 39-yard field goal attempt on the initial possession of overtime, quarterback Greg Anderson, playing in relief of starter Matt Kimmet, connected with freshman wide receiver Zack Waitman on a 25-yard touchdown throw nullified by a holding penalty.
"It's senior day, and we couldn't lose it, not today," said defensive end Kinor Detrick, a junior who finished with six solo tackles. "We played our hearts out."
Behind two scoring passes from junior Brandon Kerkes to senior Andy Smith and a three-yard touchdown plunge by tailback Travis Crawford, a junior, the Lights surged to a 21-7 lead early in the third quarter.
But with the entrance of Anderson, a 6-foot-1, 205-pound sophomore, Rocky's offense gained momentum. Bears' running back Cory Albin scored two rushing touchdowns on consecutive drives, and kicker Jeremy Duprey kicked an extra point to tie the game at 21 with about 11 minutes left in the fourth quarter.
"They looked like they were searching for the right combination on offense, and it looked like they found it in that taller quarterback," Currie said.
Northern responded quickly. Less than two minutes after Albin's second score, Kerkes hit Smith on a seven-yard fade pattern for the pair's third touchdown of the day.
"It was a storybook ending for me to go out like that," said Smith, who finished with 147 yards on eight grabs, including three touchdowns and a two-point conversion. "The day wouldn't have meant anything if we hadn't won the gameWe've had so many close games this year that we let slip away. But to finally come out on top of one of them is a great feeling."
Anderson scored on a nine-yard touchdown run with about three minutes left in regulation, setting the stage for overtime.
"I consider it our program's biggest victory," Currie said. "It was a great way to end our season. We won our last two games, and that's a great way to carry over into next season. That might have been the one that turns the corner for us."