MISSOULA — Staring 67 yards in the face with 44 seconds remaining and a 3-point deficit against Great Falls on Friday, Missoula Big Sky running back Kadin Lahti started laughing in the huddle at Missoula County Stadium.
"I was like 'what's so funny about this? We're down (by three)," Big Sky's quarterback Levi Janacaro asked in the huddle. "He just said, 'we have time.'"
He wasn't losing his mind, that's just the belief Big Sky has in its signal caller to bring the team back from the brink of defeat.
And he delivered again.
Janacaro found Lahti for two long pass plays that chewed up 64 yards in 20 seconds. One play later, the bruising quarterback fell in for his fourth touchdown of the game to lift the Eagles over the Bison, 26-23.
"It's a great effort by all of our guys and right when it gets down to those last seconds, we just get gritty," said sophomore wide out and DB Jett Rebish, who had an interception and an impressive 29-yard reception that set up Big Sky's second touchdown of the game in the second quarter.
"We really believe in Levi," Rebish said. "We know he can get the job done when it comes down to games like that."
But less than a minute earlier, Janacaro's magic was almost outdone by Kevin Boes' mettle.
Boes, the Great Falls quarterback, scored two second-half touchdowns, including the go-ahead score with 50 seconds left on the clock. The senior quarterback, limping most of the game, faked a hand off and bootlegged around end. He leaped into the end zone, spinning in the air in excitement, as he put his team ahead 23-20.
"The whole drive, I just tried to breathe and be calm, it just felt good to get in the end zone. I'm just really happy we could get ahead, it shows a lot about our team," said Boes, who finished 15-for-29 passing for 183 yards and another 12 carries and 55 yards on the ground. He also had a slew of tackles on defense. "Honestly, it was one of the most fun games I've been a part of."
Great Falls' go-ahead drive was set up by a Big Sky special teams gaffe — one of two on the evening for the Eagles that gave the Ball to Great Falls. The Bison forced a three-and-out less than 2 minutes after Boes' first touchdown made it 20-14 with 5:27 remaining. Boes converted two fourth downs with his feet on the drive.
Big Sky tried to punt from on its own 19 with 3:59 remaining, after the ensuing drive stalled, but the snap jettisoned over the punter's head and into the end zone. The ball trickled out the back right as a Great Falls defender got there and the Bison were awarded a safety to pull within four, 20-16.
Great Falls got the ball back on the free kick, and Boes again led the Bison down the field, converting on long passes to Blake Thelan and Kyle Winkler before finishing with his touchdown scamper with 50 seconds remaining.
But that was too much time for Janacaro and Co.
"We gotta be more disciplined, we put ourselves in a bad spot a couple times... But I give our kids a lot of credit, when it's crunch time, they rally around each other and make big plays and come through," Big Sky coach Matt Johnson said.
Janacaro's first pass to Lahti came on a flag route toward the Great Falls sideline and went for 42 yards. No. 2 was a flag route to the other side of the field, this one for 22 yards.
“That play that we run, that flag route is our best route. I call it awesome play. When I called it, (Lahti) gave me one of these," said Janacaro, who mimicked Lahti calling for the ball.
Janacaro's impending 2-yard touchdown tumble — all four of the QB's scoring runs were less than 5 yards — was almost inevitable. Big Sky (4-1 overall) hustled to the line and completed the last-minute comeback.
Great Falls (1-4) got the ball back with 18 seconds, and Boes tried two more hail mary passes, but couldn't convert. The last was knocked down by — who else? — Janacaro, with help from Rebish and Lahti.