G-K falls to Byron in defensive battle

BYRON — The Byron Tigers edged out the Genoa-Kingston Cogs 7-3 in a low-scoring affair.

The only touchdown in the game came on the Tigers’ (4-0, 4-0 in Big Northern) first possession of the game.

After forcing a three and out on the Cogs’ first possession, the Tigers ground their way down the field. Byron scored on a two-yard dive by senior running back Andrew Claunch, capping an 85-yard, 16-play drive. The Tigers didn’t attempt a pass on the drive, eating up almost an entire quarter.

“That first drive really I think set the tempo,” Claunch said. “We realized we’ve got this game and if we keep going hard and running fast, we’re going to win.”

The Cogs (3-1, 3-1) thought they had the game tied in the third quarter when linebacker Nolan Perry stepped in front of a Braden Smith pass and went dashing up the field, zigzagging his way across the field all the way into the end zone. The Cogs were called for an illegal block in the back, which took the ball back to midfield.

“It felt great until I looked back and saw the yellow laundry lying on the field,” Perry said. “It didn’t feel great when I saw the flag, but in the moment, there’s no greater feeling in the world.”

The Cogs moved the ball all the way to the 8-yard line, but the Tigers held firm with their backs at the goal line. The Cogs settled for a Ben Younker field goal for their only score of the night.

Smith got his chance at redemption for that interception on the Tigers’ game-clinching drive.

Facing a third and long from the Tiger 28 yard line, Smith hit receiver Ethan Palzkill streaking down the sideline for a 27-yard completion. From there, the Tigers ran out the clock to finish the game the way they started it, with a long drive. Their final drive was 14 plays, keeping the ball away from the Cogs’ offense.

“It was huge,” Tigers coach Jeff Boyer said. “We have confidence in Braden Smith throwing the ball. It felt like we were getting a lot of pressure here. That time our offensive line did a great job protecting and the ball was thrown on time. It was a big play for us.”

The Cogs couldn’t get much going despite good field position, especially in the first half. The Cogs special teams did their part, with Brody Engel and Ethan Wilnau both having big returns to set the Cogs up at midfield on their first two possessions. The offense couldn’t get moving, going three and out on both those possessions.

“It’s frustrating,” Cogs coach Cam Davekos said. “It’s always frustrating when you can’t move the ball. These kids played hard and that’s the only thing we can ask from them.”

After that first long drive, the Cogs defense stiffened. The Cogs forced punts on the next three drives, including a three-and-out thanks to a big defensive series for Cogs senior linebacker Aiden Vasak. Vasak sacked Byron junior quarterback Braden Smith on his first pass attempt of the game for a 9-yard loss. Vasak then stuffed running back Kye Aken for a 1-yard loss on the next play.