'Lifetime of memories': Byron football breaks through with Class 3A title victory

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DEKALB — This time, the Byron Tigers left nothing to chance.

The Tigers early on squashed any hopes that Tolono Unity had of winning its first football title — and then just steamrolled to their second with a 35-7 victory in the Class 3A championship showdown Friday at Huskie Stadium.

Running backs Chandler Binkley (164 yards rushing with an 8.6 yard-per-carry average) and Ethan Palzkill (78 yards rushing, 64 yards receiving, and three TDs) helped the Byron program move on from its two four-point losses in the last two 3A state championship games.

Live recap:Byron beats Tolono Unity for Class 3A title

"These kids made their own lifetime of memories," Byron coach Jeff Boyer said. Boyer was the Tigers QB for the 1999 state title. "This is a special thing and they're going to talk about this for years to come."

Faded memories

Byron coach Jeff Boyer hugs his player after winning the Class 3A state championship game on Friday, November 26, 2021 in DeKalb.
Byron coach Jeff Boyer hugs his player after winning the Class 3A state championship game on Friday, November 26, 2021 in DeKalb.

Byron led Williamsville by 10 after a touchdown with 4:34 left in the 2019 state title game. The Tigers lost 46-42.

Byron took a 14-10 lead midway through the third quarter over Monticello in the 2018 championship game. The Tigers lost that one 24-20.

But things were different this time around. It appeared to be headed that way when the Tigers pulled off back-to-back, late-game heroics in the quarters and semis.

"That just gave us a ton of confidence; a ton," quarterback Braden Smith said. "Those games; a ton of confidence."

They carried that momentum right into the title game.

Pure dominance

Byron quarterback Braden Smith prepares to take a snap against Tolono Unity on Friday, November 26, 2021 in DeKalb. Smith's 32-yard TD pass was the first score in Byron's 35-7 Class 3A championship win.
Byron quarterback Braden Smith prepares to take a snap against Tolono Unity on Friday, November 26, 2021 in DeKalb. Smith's 32-yard TD pass was the first score in Byron's 35-7 Class 3A championship win.

Byron (14-0) never punted, had no turnovers, and led the time of possession battle 32:05 to 15:55. It all started when quarterback Braden Smith hit Palzkill with a well-timed, perfectly placed 32-yard touchdown pass just over three minutes into the game.

More from the title game: Rare, effective passes made Byron's run game impossible to stop in title rout

"That's what we do, we like to take the ball right down the field on you — then just chew up the clock," said Smith, who was 3-for-5 passing for 64 yards, and had a rushing and a passing TD. "We knew if we do what we do, we're going to come out on top."

They did, and they did.

The Tigers averaged 315 yards rushing coming in, and with a lead, they went right to the power-run game. Binkley found a crease and darted 24 yards during Byron's second possession, one that lasted 15 plays and took 5:56 off the clock. It ended with a short TD from fullback Andrew Claunch, who had a team-high 20 carries for 75 yards.

Unity (13-1), which is now 0-6 in state title games since 2000 and lost all of them by at least 21 points, showed a little life with a 37-yard TD pass from Blake Kimball to Dillon Rutledge as time expired on the first half.

"We got that score right before half, and we thought we could win this game," Tolono Unity coach Scott Hamilton said. "But hats off to Byron. They just executed very, very, very well. ... They had us off balance."

And Unity couldn't muster any attack in the second half as Byron powered home to the title. All three of the Rockets' second-half drives ended with turnovers on downs.

Byron's Ethan Palzkill carries the ball against Tolono Unity in the Class 3A football state championship on Friday, November 26, 2021 at Huskie Stadium in DeKalb.
Byron's Ethan Palzkill carries the ball against Tolono Unity in the Class 3A football state championship on Friday, November 26, 2021 at Huskie Stadium in DeKalb.

"People see us and think we're not bigger than anyone, we're not stronger than anyone, we're not faster than anyone," said Palzkill, one of the Byron's 12 seniors, and the guy who scored the game's only two TDs of the second half. "But what we have is heart. We pride ourselves on being able to push people down."

They pushed down the final foes of this year. Byron tallied 437 yards to Tolono Unity's 205, rushing for 373 as a team. The Tigers also went 9-of-13 on third down, while holding their final opponents to 0-for-7.

Claunch led the Byron defense with eight tackles, while Isiah Gooden added a pair of tackles and two for a loss, and Max Connell chipped in with two tackles, one tackle for a loss and one sack.

Jay Taft: jtaft@rrstar.com; @JayTaft

This article originally appeared on Rockford Register Star: IHSA football state championship 2021: Byron grabs second state title

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