Byron football back in state semifinals after dramatic TD in final seconds

Jay Taft
Rockford Register Star
Byron's Isiah Gooden celebrates Byron's last-minute win over Reed-Custer in the Class 3A quarterfinal game in Byron on Saturday, Nov. 13, 2021. Byron won 28-24.

BYRON — This time, Byron had to close out a football game at the end.

In the final 10 seconds, for that matter.

Byron (12-0), which has blown out all but two of his opponents this season, needed a 10-play, 61-yard drive and a 10-yard TD pass from quarterback Braden Smith to halfback Chandler Binkley with nine seconds remaining to pull off the 28-24 win over Reed-Custer in Saturday's Class 3A state quarterfinal showdown.

The Tigers got the ball down 24-21 with 2:55 left, and they proceeded to calmly cruise right down and re-take the lead, leaving the Comets time for only two desperation plays at the end.

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"We dialed it up, saw what they were doing and we executed," said Binkley, who rushed for 139 yards and a TD on 26 carries. He also had the one catch for 10 yards and a score. "We all just believed in each other. We knew when we watched them score, we had three minutes, three timeouts, we were ready."

Binkley and the Tigers had to convert a pair of fourth downs on the final drive, and then looked at a first-and-goal from the 10 during a long timeout. But they were confident in the play that was called.

"I knew that play was open, and I told coach about it," said Smith, who had just the one completion on the day, but also rushed for two scores. "Then two plays later we ran it... And there it was."

Smith floated a finesse pass right into the arms of a wide-open Binkley, and that was it. Reed-Custer's last two plays went for 11 yards, and the Tigers celebration began.

"I can't remember a finish like that here at Byron, but man, what a stage for it," Byron head coach Jeff Boyer said. "Reed-Custer is a great football team, and they gave us everything we could handle, and they knew they would. That's what a quarterfinal football game is supposed to be like."

Byron's Chandler Binkley catches a touchdown pass in the end zone with 9.2 seconds left in the Class 3A state quarterfinal game against Reed-Custer in Byron on Saturday, Nov. 13, 2021. Byron won 28-24.

The Tigers, who tallied 272 yards of offense, were outgained by Reed-Custer's balanced attack, which mustered 221 yards passing and 120 rushing. But Binkley also added six tackles and a sack on defense, and Byron recovered a pair of key fumbles that helped swing momentum.

Byron, now in its fourth straight 3A state semifinal game, placed second in state both in 2018 and 2019, losing both state-final games by four points. Now the Tigers will host Elmhurst IC Catholic, 31-7 winners over Princeton on Saturday, in next weekend's state semifinal.

Jay Taft: jtaft@rrstar.com; @JayTaft