BY ROB LAPLANTE
The biggest crowd of the season gathered Friday at Middle School West football field for the Homecoming game between St. Michael-Albertville and Buffalo.
Coming off an emotional win over Rogers and seeing the winless Bison on the visitor’s side of the field, the Knights were looking to win their fourth game in a row and claim share of the lead in the Mississippi 8 Conference.
The big crowd barely had a chance to sit down before the Knights gave them a reason to stand. Just 9:53 into the first quarter, senior quarterback Cole Krutzig connected with senior wide receiver Brian Ferry on a 70-yard touchdown reception.
On the play, Krutzig lofted a pretty pass in stride to a breaking Ferry about 40 yards downfield and Ferry took care of the rest.
But with only 11 seconds remaining in the quarter, Buffalo was pinned in its own end and on the opening play of the drive, quarterback Jason Senger raced around the right end and scampered 80-yards untouched for an apparent game-tying score. The extra point attempt was blocked by junior Andrew Winans and the Knights still led 7-6.
The Knights had chances in the second quarter to increase their lead, but a couple long Krutzig runs were called back due to holding calls. Both penalties resulted in third and long situations and the end result turned into a Krutzig interception – one of three the Bison picked off in the contest.
“I think we got a little too excited about the start of the game and we kind of put it in cruise control,” said Ferry, who finished the game with 92 yards receiving. “We got a little too comfortable with ourselves. We made some mistakes and we couldn’t recover from it.”
Prior to the half, the Bison scored another rushing touchdown. Mason Jacobs would score from five yards out, giving the Bison a 12-7 lead. Like the first score, the Buffalo extra point was no good as Eddie Clifton’s kick came up short.
Ironically, with 2.2 seconds left in the third quarter, it was Clifton who nailed a 45-yard field goal that opened up a 15-7 lead for Buffalo.
“You have to give credit to Buffalo, they played really well,” said head coach Jared Essler. “I thought we were doing a good job on offense, but a couple penalties hurt us.”
Junior running back Chris Kartes busted free for a 35-yard run, midway through the fourth quarter, putting the Knights into Bison territory. Kartes was held in check most the night by Buffalo. Coming off a 176 yard, three-touchdown performance, Kartes was held to 74 yards on the ground.
Buffalo ranked second to last in the conference prior to the game, allowing 38.5 points per game.
“(Buffalo) was 0-4 and they were giving up 40 points a game and we may have underestimated them a bit,” Ferry said. “We were a little too comfortable with ourselves for most of the game. When we did make plays, we’ve had some drive ending penalties. It’s was very frustrating.”
The game didn’t end without drama. After the defense forced the Bison to punt, STMA took over in Buffalo territory with under 2:00 left in regulation.
Krutzig hit senior wide receiver Jamey Kolles to convert a critical fourth-and-nine situation. Moments later, Krutzig scored from three yards out, giving the Knights a 15-13 deficit and setting up a critical two-point conversion attempt to tie the game.
With the game riding on one play, the Bison defense came up big, swatting down a Krutzig pass attempt at the line of scrimmage.
“It was a bootleg and we wanted to give our athletic quarterback a chance to make a play. They just made a good play on it,” Essler said. “It would have been a lot of fun to play this one in overtime, but it just wasn’t meant to be.”
It was the first time in seven seasons that Buffalo has captured the Muddy Crow statue that is awarded each year to the winner between the two teams.
On a positive, the Knights’ defense continues to shine. The 15 points allowed was a season high, but their 11.2 point per game average rank third to only Monticello and Cambridge-Isanti in fewest points allowed in the conference.
Senior linebacker Erik Johnson led the way with 10 tackles (seven solo) in the game Johnson leads the Knights with 38 total tackles this season. Senior linebacker Bennie Wilson had two sacks and six tackles.
STMA (3-2 overall) will play at Brainerd (4-1 overall) in a non-conference game Saturday at 2 p.m.