Byron’s TD pass with 9 seconds left ends Reed-Custer’s magical season

Tigers advance to their four-straight Class 3A playoff semifinal with a 28-24 victory over the Comets

BYRON — It looked as if the Reed-Custer football team was going to add another milestone to its fantastic season when senior running back Elliot Cassem scampered into the end zone and Brandon Moorman added the extra-point boot to put the Comets ahead by three with just over three minutes to play in Saturday’s IHSA Class 3A State Quarterfinal contest against Byron.

However, the top-seeded Tigers, who have finished runner-up the past two contested postseasons, went 14-plays and 52 yards before junior quarterback Braden Smith found senior running back Chandler Binkey wide open in left flat for a 10-yard touchdown pass with 9.2 seconds remaining — the eighth lead change of the contest — to advance the hosts to a fourth consecutive semifinal appearance with a 28-24 victory over the No. 4-seeded Comets at Everett Stine Stadium.

Byron, after three straight home playoff games, will now travel to Elmhurst to play No. 6 seeded IC Catholic, a 31-7 winner over Princeton. IC Catholic defeated Byron 7-0 in the 2017 semifinals.

Byron (12-0) converted on a pair of fourth down situations on the game-winning drive and Smith was 0-for-5 with an interception prior to toss to Binkey.

“We were out of timeouts and we knew we had to take a shot at the end zone a couple times and then attempt a field goal to tie if we didn’t get the touchdown,” Byron head coach Jeff Boyer said. “The play before the touchdown, (Smith) came over to the sidelines and said ‘Coach, keep an eye on the backside post wheel. I think it’s going to be open.’ So we called backside post wheel. That’s where you just trust your kids. They are seeing things on the field that we may not from the sideline or the press box.

“It worked out for us.”

After Smith scored on his second short TD of the game with 7 minutes, 9 seconds remaining in the fourth to put the Tigers up 21-17, the Comets answered like they had all game.

Starting at their own 27, Reed-Custer used three runs by Cassem, a Byron pass interference penalty, a first down converting pass from McPherson to Eddie Gad and a two-yard dive on third-and-1 from Jace Christian to move the ball to the Byron 29. Three plays later the Comets faced a fourth-and-1 at the 18, but Cassem bounced a run up the middle around right end to go in untouched and the visitors lead 24-21.

Cassem finished with 78 yards on 20 carries, while McPherson, who came up hobbling after a run early in the second quarter, had 25 yards on six tries and was 14-of-24 passing for 195 yards.

“Having Jake re-aggravate that ankle injury he’s had really made us adjust our offense and what we wanted to do,” said Reed-Custer head coach Gavin Johnston. “Byron was able to focus on Elliot more in the second half, but give credit to our offensive coordinator Nick Klein for being able to make things happen and putting us in a great spot with three minutes to play. He had to call the last almost three quarters way differently than he wanted to with Jake banged up.”

Reed-Custer (10-2) grabbed the early momentum as Josh Bohac picked off Smith at the Byron 30 and return it to the 4 on the game’s third play. Four plays later the visitors were up 6-0 after a 3-yard keeper by McPherson. Byron took a 7-6 lead in the final seconds of the first on the first of Smith’s 1-yard sneaks.

The Comets used a Moorman 27-yard field goal at the 7:19 mark of the second to lead 9-7, but the Tigers got a 3-yard run from Binkey, who ended with 147 yards on 27 carries, to hold a 14-9 halftime lead.

Byron finished with 257 ground yards on 54 tries, while Reed-Custer had 118 on 34.

“(This program) has never been in this position before, a quarterfinal playoff game, everything is new,” Johnston said. “But getting that interception and then scoring on fourth down to grab the early lead really took away any pregame jitters we may have had.

“They were getting the edge on us a little bit more than we would have liked in the first half and they ran on us pretty good. They were getting blockers up free to our inside linebackers and those are the guys we want free to make tackles. We made some adjustments at halftime, reminded them about playing lower and matching steps.

“In the end, they just made a couple of really great plays in that final drive and credit them for making them.”

Reed-Custer, which ran 21 plays to the Tigers three in the third quarter, completed a 14-play, 71-yard drive to open the second half with McPherson finding Dylan Garrelts from 10-yards out for a TD and hitting Wesley Shats for the conversion to make it 17-14.

“What a battle and give all the credit to Reed-Custer for not only how they played today, but the season they’ve had,” Boyer said. “They have a really great thing going right now with their program and they have great kids that play extremely hard each and every play. They are a great football team that is well-coached and very skilled.”