TULSA, DEC. 3 -- A season that began last summer with a gathering of underappreciated upstarts at Montgomery College in Rockville and continued with an unbeaten joy ride through the junior college ranks, ended in an almost surreal setting on a wet Sunday evening -- the south end zone of Union-Tuttle Stadium.
The forlorn team from Maryland assembled with its coaching staff after a resounding 58-20 loss to No. 1 Coffeyville of Kansas in the Mid-America Bowl. The defeat left the Knights 10-1, stunned, teary and ultimately alone while the Red Ravens mingled with their frenzied fans nearby to celebrate a third national JuCo championship.
Offensive coordinator Mike Dailey hugged his Montgomery players one by one, while the defensive players and coaches huddled together for support.
Nearby stood quarterback John Kaleo, widely expected to be the game's star. That was before his four-interception performance, which led to 23 Coffeyville points. Now he paced alone, the driving rain pinching his face as he stared into the Oklahoma night looking for solace.
The rain didn't help, nor did five Montgomery turnovers. But ultimately what beat the Knights was an outstanding Coffeyville squad that outplayed them in every aspect and shut down the main ingredient in their offense: the pass.
And Knights Coach Phil Martin knew it.
"They had great team speed. We had no one who could keep up with them," he said. "Plus we didn't have their depth. Whenever one of our guys got injured, we had to replace him with another injured player."
Kaleo's totals -- 272 yards through the air on 20 completions out of 52 throws -- were not embarrassing, but the statistic belied the difficulty he had eluding the fierce rush, not to mention gripping the ball after the skies opened in the second quarter.
"The rain made a big difference in our ball movement," wide receiver Dwayne Freeman said. "We had a plan of attack. We knew we could move the ball. We felt there was no way they could stop us."
The Red Ravens certainly could not stop Kaleo on Montgomery's opening drive. The player voted the nation's most valuable JuCo player riddled the secondary, then completed the 76-yard drive himself with a one-yard plunge.
Coffeyville returned the favor early, driving down the field on the wide shoulders of running back Tony Jeffery, who finished with a bowl-record 282 yards on 23 carries. Jeffery scored on a 22-yard run as the Ravens took a 7-6 lead. After the game he said he will attend Arkansas next year.
The Montgomery defense halted Coffeyville after the Ravens recovered an onside kick, but the Knights' next drive was a portent of things to come. An incomplete pass, a three-yard run by Andre Henry, then another incomplete pass and the Knights had to punt. Their offense was never the same.
"I knew we could score some points," said Coffeyville Coach Skip Foster, whose team finished 11-0. "I was not so sure of our defense, but I can't ask for more than what our secondary did."
Now, the sophomores on the Montgomery-Rockville team move on, while Martin remains to construct a new power. The biggest winner in school history, Martin has done it before. The Knights traveled here in 1986, only to be dispatched with ease by Northeastern Oklahoma A&M, 38-7.
Kaleo, a Bowie High School alumnus, says he is leaning toward attending Maryland and has a visit scheduled in College Park this weekend. He also has visits upcoming at North Carolina and Clemson.
"I've also been contacted by Hawaii, Rutgers and Cincinnati," he said. "I'll just wait and see what happens."
The fleet Freeman says he has been courted by, and will choose between, Maryland and Tennessee.