Ogle County Life | Byron Lombard defeated Montigny 26-20 to advance to the state title game
“This was the first time we faced adversity and we responded well.”
LOMBARD – In contrast to his previous 12 wins, Byron was entering terra incognita with a trip to Lombard to face a Catholic League powerhouse with a more impressive playoff history than the Tigers. In a game that was decided only after Montaigne’s fourth-down pass fell incomplete, Byron escaped with a 26-20 victory.
“Our kids showed a lot of composure,” Byron coach Jeff Boyer said. “It was the first time we faced adversity and we responded well to it. It wasn’t our cleanest game. Montini is a great team.”
That misfortune was evident on the fourth play of the game when the Tigers fumbled down the field and not only did Montini get the ball back, but star running back Alex Marie (27-130) ran for a 20-yard touchdown on the next play.
On Byron’s next possession, they managed just one touchdown before punting, for only the second time all season. Montini got the ball near midfield and an air of fear began to spread on the Byron side of the jam-packed Duffy Stadium.
It was Kyei Akin who sparked the first spark for the Tigers’ defence. He forced a three-and-out after an open tackle on Mary on a no-gain reception.
The Tigers took over 10 yards after the ensuing penalty, and they had a heavy load in front of them, but with Caden Considine and Brayden Knoll, anything is possible. The pair began to tear apart the Broncos defence, with Considine doing so in the middle and Knoll on the outside. Consecutive runs of 20 and 26 yards by Knoll, the latter a touchdown, cut the deficit to 7-6.
The Tiger defense continued to step up with defensive end Kyle Jones stopping Mary for no gain and freshman Andrew Talbert making an interception at the 24-yard line.
“They had a great game plan on defense and played really well,” Montini QB Gaetano Carbonara said.
It took Byron just three plays to take a 12-8 lead. First, Considine had a 49-yard drive and Knoll capped the drive with a 22-yard touchdown, setting off a 360-degree move by a would-be tackler.
“It makes it easier when they put pressure on Caden,” Noll said. “Why don’t you? It seems reasonable.”
Carbonara threw a 40-yard pass to George Asay in double coverage and against the wind to move into Tiger territory on the next possession; But the drive ended at the 31-yard line.
It was Knoll who scored touchdown number three on a 15-yard run, weaving his way past the last defender. That gave Byron an 18-8 lead and a little normalcy returned to Tiger fans. Was the 18 unanswered points the start of another Byron run?
Not against a team with six state titles in 4A, 5A and 6A and one that is accustomed to a competitive schedule. With 24 seconds left in the first half, Marie did his best Walter Payton imitation and jumped over the goal line for a one-yard touchdown, cutting the deficit to 18-13. It capped off a 13-play, 80-yard drive and was helped by an unusual holding penalty on Byron’s defense.
“Our bread and butter is to run it with Alex,” Montini coach Mike Pucovsky said. “However, more often than not, our crime is not carried out.”
The Broncos regained the lead, 20-18 early in the third quarter on a 46-yard run by Asay, with a big assist from a block down the field by Santino Florio. Montini started with good field position when returning to midfield.
Byron responded by driving to Montaigne. However, a fumble gave the ball back to the Broncos and the promising drive was squandered.
After the two teams exchanged punts, Montini had the ball on first-and-10 on the 37-yard line with two minutes left in the third quarter and still had a two-point lead. Marie got a first down and then in what would have been a Montini play, Carbonara and Florio connected on a 37-yard floater to the Byron 10-yard line.
But a cynical penalty against Montini put the ball back 15 yards.
“We need to be smarter,” Bukowski said. “In the fourth quarter we made a lot of mistakes and were not disciplined.”
The Broncos rebounded from the fumble and made their first touchdown. But the Byron defense forced a fourth down and Montini lined up for a 27-yard field goal.
That’s when things went well for Montaigne. A delay of game pushed the ball back five yards and Pucovski decided to punt it instead.
“We missed the last extra point and I liked our individual game,” Pucovski said.
This decision proved costly as Considine picked off Carbonara and returned it 40 yards. The sophomore, who was on the field for nearly the entire game, read Carbonara and was in perfect position for the interception.
“I was surprised they did that,” Boyer said. “He turned that field around with Caden’s interception.”
From being a few yards out to making it a two-goal game at 29-20 and putting Byron on the ropes, Montini suddenly found himself on the defensive against a Tigers ground game that ended with Considine winning 240 over 33 yards and Knoll adding 145.
Although Byron did not attempt a single pass, Montini elected to leave his three defensive backs off the line of scrimmage, making it an 11-on-8 game.
“They kept throwing things out there and we needed the wings, otherwise you wouldn’t stop anything,” Pucovski said.
With the game on the line, Considine was racking up significant yardage, carrying the ball eight of nine times on a 50-yard game-winning scoring drive, including the final yard for an easy score. Knoll added a PAT run and Byron led 26-20 with 3:29 left in the game.
“When I was growing up, (Coach Everett) Stine always said ‘Whatever I call success.’ That’s how I feel with this group,” said Boyer, the QB on the 1999 state championship team.
Nick Ingram nearly ended the game for Byron with a sack of Carbonara on third down, only to see the Broncos’ quarterback hit Asay for a 24-yard gain on fourth-and-15. That was all the offense Montini could muster, as another fourth-down pass fell incomplete and Byron could begin to celebrate with a trip downstate to face Mount Carmel.