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Class 3A state championship: No late heroics needed, Byron routs Unity for title

DeKALB — After a pair of nail-biters just to qualify for the Class 3A state championship, Byron didn’t need any late theatrics for its second title in program history.

The Tigers scored the first three touchdowns and never looked back in a 35-7 win over Tolono Unity on Friday at Huskie Stadium.

“There are not a whole lot of words that can describe what transpired this postseason with this entire group,” Boyer said. “It’s been a great ride. 14-0 state champs, it feels good to say that.”

Byron (14-0) had to rally past IC Catholic in the semifinals with two touchdowns by Chandler Binkley in the closing minutes of a 15-14 win. A week earlier, with 9.2 seconds left against Reed-Custer, Binkley hauled in a touchdown pass to give the Tigers a 28-24 win in the quarterfinals.

“It definitely prepared us coming into this game if it did go down to the wire,” Binkley said. “These last two weeks gave us that knowledge of what it feels like to play while losing, coming down to the last minute, staying calm.”

In giving his team a state title Friday, Binkley ran for 164 yards on 19 carries as the Tigers notched 437 yards of total offense.

Byron pushed its lead to 28-7 in the third quarter, eating 7:29 off the clock on the opening drive of the half. The Tigers capped the long drive with a 20-yard run by Ethan Palzkill.

Unity had a chance to answer, and on a fourth-and-12 from the Byron 23, quarterback Blake Kimball escaped pressure and found Tyler Hensch open in the middle of the field, but Hensch couldn’t haul in the pass with 1:18 left in the third.

Palzkill added a score in the fourth to push the lead to 35-7 with 5:24 left as the Tigers finally broke through and won the title after losing the 2018 and 2019 tilts.

Byron leaped out to a 20-0 lead late in the first half, but Unity got on the board with a 17-second scoring drive to close the first half.

The Tigers got a passing and rushing touchdown from Braden Smith in the first half, along with an Andrew Claunch scoring run to go up 20-0.

Smith also had an impact play on defense, recovering a fumble forced by Jake Lenz to stop an early Unity drive in its tracks.

Smith said the past two weeks definitely paid off on Friday.

“It gave us a lot of confidence knowing we can beat both Reed-Cuter and IC Catholic,” Smith said. “They are both very good programs. It gave us a lot of confidence to do what we do and we knew we were going to come out on top.”

Unity put together its most effective drive of the game, getting on the board for the first time when Kimball put up a deep bomb right into the hands of Dillon Rutledge to get the Rockets within 20-7 at halftime.

Kimball threw for 102 yards, including 49 to Rutledge on two catches and 39 yards on three catches to Jay Saunders.

“I couldn’t be more proud of a group of guys that have battle through so much,” Unity coach Scott Hamilton said. “Things were difficult throughout the last year and a half and for these guys to be 18-1 over the last two years, I can’t be more proud of that.”