This one was worth the wait — all 4,445 days.
Led by a true freshman quarterback, a linebacker-turned running back and a ferocious defense, injury-riddled Rocky Mountain College rose up and shocked No. 16-ranked Carroll College 31-28 on Saturday afternoon at Herb Klindt Field.
It was the Battlin' Bears' first win over the Saints in slightly more than 12 years and two months. The historically significant victory ended a 24-game losing streak to Carroll and touched off a joyous on-field celebration by the Rocky players and their fans.
Right in the center of it all was freshman quarterback Tyler Lott, clutching the game ball after throwing for two touchdowns in his first start as a replacement for the injured Bryce Baker.
Close by was junior Pete Anderson, who moved over from the defense earlier in the week to help shore up Rocky's injury-plagued running game. He responded with 159 rushing yards and the game's first touchdown.
"It was just unbelievable to have our team pull together like that," Lott said. "Pete had a great game. The offensive line blocked awesome. Our defense gave an extraordinary effort."
While the win was Rocky's first over Carroll since a 14-3 triumph in Helena on Sept. 2, 2000, the loss by the Saints ended a run of 12 consecutive Frontier Conference championships and 12 straight appearances in the NAIA playoffs — including six national titles.
"That's one of the best games I've ever seen us play," said Jake Scharbrough, a junior defensive lineman.
Rocky, 4-5 in Frontier play and 5-5 overall, will try for its seventh winning season since 1971 when it hosts Montana State Northern next Saturday in its season finale. Carroll, 6-3 and 6-4, will finish play at home against Dickinson (N.D.) State.
In putting together a complete effort, Rocky led Carroll from start to finish. The Bears held leads of 13-0, 20-7, 28-14 and 31-21.
"I'm just, obviously, proud of our kids," Rocky coach Brian Armstrong said. "Kudos to those guys. They believed that they could do it. They did an unbelievable job today."
Rocky was in command, 31-21, following a 32-yard field goal by Nick Knell with 2:18 to play.
However, Carroll capped a quick, six-play, 69-yard scoring drive with a six-yard touchdown pass from Dakota Stonehouse to Anthony Clarke to get within 31-28 with 1:08 remaining.
But Rocky's Josh Graham scooped up a bouncing onside kick by Carroll's Tom Yaremko, and the Bears were able to run out the clock on the Saints.
Knell jumped into the arms of offensive lineman Sonny AhKui, coach Armstrong was hugged by offensive lineman Neal Coon and Lott was hoisted into the air by his teammates in celebration.
"This is just a great accomplishment for the program," Anderson said. "Hopefully we can keep things heading in an even better direction from here on out."
The 5-foot-11, 170-pound Lott, who led Twin Bridges to a State C championship last fall, completed 12 of 15 passes for 131 yards. He threw perfect TD strikes covering 15 and 58 yards to Andre McCullouch .
"I was pretty nervous before the game," Lott said. "But I just figured there was nothing I could do about it. I've just got to go out there and try my best. Give my best effort and hope the team is behind me. They were — and good things happened."
Lott was pressed into action after Baker, the team's starter, suffered a concussion last weekend at Montana Western.
Anderson, a 6-foot, 205-pound junior also from Twin Bridges, ran hard over the middle for 127 yards in the first half alone. He got the ball rolling early for the Bears, highlighting a long drive with a 27-yard dash into the end zone and a 6-0 lead 10 minutes into the game.
"It was mostly the O-line," Anderson said of his huge performance. "Give credit to them and the receivers, they're the ones creating the holes. I just ran where they put some daylight for me. It was really nothing great that I did."
Anderson hadn't carried the football for the Bears since his one haul as a freshman against Dickinson State.
"Monday they told me I was going to switch (from linebacker) to running back and then started giving me the play sheet then," Anderson said. "Tuesday (in practice) is the first time I carried it. It was a learning process. It worked out all right, I guess.
"I kind of thought Pete might do something like that," Armstrong said. "He's just a football player. Tyler, being a coach's kid, he was able to manage the situation and not make any big mistakes. When he got a chance to make a play, he made it."
Rocky led 20-14 at halftime, and grabbed some added momentum in the third quarter when the defense and offense delivered a perfect 1-2 punch.
Near midfield, defensive end Doug Karmowski hit Carroll's Stonehouse as he released a pass. The ball fluttered in the air and was intercepted by outside linebacker Travis Bertelsen.
Seconds later, Lott faked a handoff to Anderson and connected with the speedy — and wide open — McCullouch for a 58-yard touchdown on a well-placed pass.
Lott then threw to Cole Cattelan for a two-point conversion and a 28-14 lead with 8:26 left in the third quarter.
"I think they won all three phases of the game," Carroll coach Mike Van Diest said of Rocky. "We didn't run the football very well. They had a number of sacks and we couldn't protect our quarterback to save his life. Defensively, we gave up a lot of big plays again."
Rocky's defense came away with three interceptions and five sacks. Bertelsen, a defensive stalwart, even threw a short second-quarter TD pass out of the team's Bearcat formation.
"This is for the players who played here before and were so close, and just for the future players to show them how it's done," said senior defensive end Brad Eliel, who had 2 1/2 sacks. "It's just an unbelievable feeling right now."