HELENA — The clock counted down and a banner unfurled from the stands of Nelson Stadium.
It congratulated Carroll College football coach Mike Van Diest for win No. 200.
The Saints defeated the Linfield Wildcats, an NCAA Division III powerhouse, 21-14 on a dramatic touchdown pass from Kolby Killoy to Joe Farris in the final 90 seconds before a crowd of 2,205.
Players then sang the school’s fight song to fans in the stands and Van Diest hugged his family and celebrated with family, friends and fans on the field.
News spread fast and Van Diest's phone rang with calls from those who couldn’t make the trip to witness history.
Van Diest improved to 200-49 in his 20-year career with the Saints (2-1).
“I don’t look at it,” Van Diest said of his record. “I’ve been here long enough; things fall into place.”
Van Diest downplayed the milestone, but he knew it meant something to many people. It took him extra time to get through the crowd to meet with the media for postgame interviews.
He apologized and opened up by giving credit to his players and a tough Linfield team. The Wildcats are know for winning national titles and hasn't enduring a losing season in 62 years.
It took some prompting for Van Diest to discuss win No. 200. When he opened up, he began to choke up and had to wipe away a tear.
“We’ve had some great teams here,” Van Diest said. “I remember win No. 1. That was the most important win in our program. We beat the No. 5 team in Rocky that year in ‘99. Every one is special. Every one is different. It’s a number. It’s not something I set out to do. It’s not why I came back to coach (this year). I came back to coach these seniors. I wanted to be around these guys.”
The victory snuck up on everyone at Carroll College. Van Diest earned victory 199 in the middle of the week. It came when Rocky Mountain College forfeit its game to Carroll College for using an ineligible player.
“We didn’t even talk about 200 at all,” senior cornerback Ryan Beaulieu said. “Our biggest point was getting a win. We were worried about that team beating us on our field and not being able to sing our fight song. We didn’t focus on it until afterward. I didn’t even know it was his 200th win.”
The Saints struggled to the end to secure this win. They led 14-0 early in the third quarter, but the Wildcats (0-1) came back to tie the game with 11:39 left in the game.
Linfield put pressure on the Carroll secondary by passing 54 times. Quarterback Wyatt Smith completed 25 of them and threw for a touchdown. He even caught a touchdown pass from running back Ryan Ruhl.
However, the Saints intercepted three passes and twice held the Wildcats on downs. The first two interceptions by Tony Madsen and McBride Galt were in the end zone to save potential scores. The third was by Beaulieu with 1:29 left in the game.
“I still can’t believe it,” Beaulieu said. “You can’t really focus when so many people are hitting you on the head and shaking you. And I was still tired.”
On the next play, Killoy hit Farris for the game-winner. It was a surprise call since Killoy had been picked off twice in the game and the Saints played it conservatively in the fourth quarter, trying to burn the clock and get in position for a game-winning field goal.
“Before that, we were kind of running the ball and trying to get the clock down,” Farris said. “When he called that play, I knew it was the one.”
Van Diest may be humble about his 200 wins and six national titles, but he still likes to win. When he sees openings, he’s willing to take his shots.
After two official wins this week, he hopes the trend continues and the Saints can string together more victories.
“You want to win a game,” Van Diest said. “We haven’t won a game, really. This was our first on-the-field win. The players wanted to win a game and win at home. It was a 14-14 game and had nothing to lose.”