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After 2 thrilling finishes, Byron making return trip to DeKalb

ELMHURST – Byron coach Jeff Boyer was certain that his team could never top its thrilling quarterfinal win over Reed-Custer.

He was wrong.

A Byron team that spent the first 11 weeks of the season barely challenged has shown a knack for late magic to return to the Class 3A state championship game in DeKalb, which will take place at 4 p.m. Friday.

Chandler Binkley’s 3-yard touchdown run on fourth down with five seconds left, and ensuing 2-point conversion run, capped Byron’s dramatic 15-14 comeback win over IC Catholic Prep in a Class 3A state semifinal Saturday.

The Tigers, Class 3A runners-up in 2018 and 2019, are back in the final for the third straight time after wins the past two weeks in the final seconds. Binkley caught a TD pass from Braden Smith with 9.2 seconds left to beat Reed-Custer, 28-24, in the quarterfinals. On Saturday, Byron scored twice in the final 3:45 to stun IC Catholic, a three-time state champion from 2016-18.

“I thought we could never have a finish like we did against Reed-Custer,” Boyer said after Saturday’s win. “Our kids topped it here tonight. Unbelievable.”

Binkley, Byron’s all-state running back, is eager for a return to DeKalb – and surely motivated to erase the memory of the team’s last trip to Huskie Stadium.

In the 2019 Class 3A final, Williamsville scored 14 points in the fourth quarter to erase what was a 10-point Byron lead in a heartbreaking 46-42 Tigers loss. The teams combined for 1,072 yards, an IHSA record.

Binkley played linebacker and special teams for that Byron team. Byron tight end Max Connell, who scored a touchdown against IC Catholic, tight end Isiah Gooden, running back Ian Palzkill and fullback Andrew Claunch also were on the roster at state as sophomores.

“The emotions of going back to DeKalb is awesome, feels great to be back and have another shot at winning a state title,” Binkley said. “We think about that game a lot. Ever since being in high school, the goal at Byron is to win a state championship, and where me and I think only one other guy actually played in that game, the rest were on the sideline. But a lot of us looked up to those guys and had older brothers on that team where seeing them finish like that is something we want to do differently.”

Boyer, in his 10th season as Tigers head coach, was Byron’s starting quarterback when the program won its only state championship in 1999. Byron’s defensive coordinator, Sean Considine, was the star of the 1999 team and played in college at Iowa before going on to an eight-year NFL career at safety, retiring shortly after winning a Super Bowl with the Baltimore Ravens.

After a few lean years in the 2000s, Boyer has brought Byron back to dominance during the past decade, with semifinal appearances in the past four postseasons.

The Tigers outscored regular-season opponents 417-91 this fall behind an effective wing-T offense led by Binkley.

But after the past two weeks, they clearly aren’t fazed with playing from behind.

After beating presumed Class 3A favorite IC Catholic – the 2019 Class 4A state champion – Byron plays Tolono Unity for the 3A title Friday.

“I tell you what it is, is the heart that these kids have,” Boyer said. “So proud of these guys. They never quit, and they showed that again. Everybody counted them out from the start and all they do is prove people wrong.”