DEKALB, Ill. (WTVO/WQRF) — After coming up just short in the state championship games in 2018 and 2019, the Byron Tigers yearned for another shot at one. They got it Friday and boy did they take advantage of it.
The Tigers routed Tolono Unity for the 3A championship 35-7 at NIU’s Huskie Stadium.
The Tigers scored on their first possession. They’re a pass-first team, but they surprised the Rockets when quarterback Braden Smith fired deep to Ethan Palzkill into the end zone for a 32-yard touchdown and a 7-0 lead.
Later in the first quarter the Tigers put together a 15-play, 60-yard touchdown drive with their run game. Andrew Claunch capped the drive in the opening minute of the second quarter by knifing in for a two-yard touchdown making it 14-0.
The Tigers stretched that lead to 20-0 with an 8-play, 78-yard drive. Smith got the final yard by propelling himself up and over the pile just breaking the plane of the goal line for the final yard.
Tolono Unity’s only moment of life came on the final play of the first half. Receiver Dillon Rutledge got behind the Byron secondary and hauled in a 37-yard touchdown pass making it 20-7 at halftime.
But Byron’s defense pitched a shutout the rest of the way, and Palzkill scored his second and third touchdowns on runs of 20 yards and five yards to make the final score 35-7.
It was a sense of relief and exhilaration for the Byron players and coaches to finally add the school’s second state championship to go along with the first one that was won in 1999 when current coaches Jeff Boyer and Sean Considine were players on that team.
“I knew my boys were ready to go,” said Byron lineman Nick Brass. I was ready to go and we put this to, we put it to sleep. We’re the best team in 3A and we know it.”
“You know it feels surreal,” said Palzkill. “I’ve been working for this. I don’t think I’m going to be able to understand the full scope of this until years down the line when I don’t have this anymore. When I’m not playing football anymore. Being with these guys, it just feels natural like this just feels like it should have happened.”
“It feels great everything, just wrapping it up after everything we’ve worked so hard for, battled for,” said Binklely who rushed for 164 yards on 19 carries.
“2018 and 19 were tough ones,” said head coach Jeff Boyer. “Those teams deserved to win too, but these guys certainly performed here tonight and got one.”
Considine, a running back on the 1999 team and now the defensive coordinator admitted it feels like 1999 all over again.
“It does. It’s just a great feeling. I’m so happy for the kids, I mean they played their tails off. They beat a great team tonight, and what can you say, we’re going to have a little fun in Byron I’ll tell you that much.