CHAMPAIGN — No. 1 versus No. 1.
Undefeated against undefeated.
The best takes on the best?
In this case, Friday’s Class 3A state championship game between a pair of unbeaten titans in the class just might actually be a best-versus-the-best scenario.
“They are the best team we’ve seen all year,” Byron head coach Jeff Boyer said this week, talking about Monticello. “They can score from anywhere on the field.”
“They can big play you all day,” Monticello head coach Cullen Welter said of Byron, “or they can give you a slow death. ... They are the best we’ve faced.”
Neither team has been pushed at all in the playoffs, with Byron outscoring its four postseason foes by an average of around 42-5 and Monticello blowing them all out by a 50-14 margin. In fact, Byron’s 21-14 win over Genoa-Kingston in Week 8 is the only game that either team has played in that was decided by less than 27 points.
They both expect a war until the end in Friday’s finale. Byron head coach Jeff Boyer went as far as to almost guarantee it:
“I know next week is going to be a battle,” he said right after his Tigers’ dismantled Herscher 42-0 in last weekend’s semifinal.
Here is how it all breaks down:BYRON
Road to state
Byron has been ranked No. 1 in the AP 3A poll all season long, starting in the preseason and carrying all the way through. The Tigers have never wavered and have had a running clock in seven of their 13 games this season, showing off their dominance most of the way.
“This is how we’ve been doing it,” junior lineman Tyler Elsbury said. “When this team is motivated, look out.”
Byron’s three-headed running back monster continued to plow through opponents’ defenses last week, and a new face (Zak Alberts) stole the spotlight at times in the semis as well. Alberts scored twice and had 90 yards of offense in the first half as the Tigers pulled away.
“I could keep going on and on and on,” Alberts said, “about how many guys we have doing a great job for us.”
It’s been these three leading the way much of the time: Drake Snodgrass has rushed for 1,480 yards on the season; Isaac Stickler has 1,383 yards; and Ricky Messling has 1,053. QB Ben Carlson has thrown for 795 yards with 12 touchdowns and just one interception.
And while Byron has thrown just one pick on the year, its defense has hauled in 15 interceptions on the other side. The Tigers’ defense has come up big time and time again, with four shutouts this season, two coming in the playoffs.
Boyer’s 3 keys
1) “We want to be the more physical team.”
2) “We’ve got to play our sound defense.”
3) “And we have to take care of the football.”
What they said
Boyer: “That was a great year (1999), and we will have that for our whole lives. People in Byron still talk about it. We want to pass that torch along. We want these kids to feel that.”
Welter: “We’ve seen a lot of run-first teams, but not a lot of broken-Wing-T’s like Byron’s. It’s tough to prepare for. Any time, any place, they can attack you.”
Elsbury: “Last year stuck with us all year, and we’ve all had a chip on our shoulder. We’ve been ready to take it to everybody.”
Road to state
Monticello was ranked eighth in the first AP poll of the regular season, but the Sages have dominated, and climbed the ladder, ever since. They’ve been on a mission ever since they lost 21-20 to Byron in the second round of the playoffs last year.
“It’s definitely been a topic of discussion for about a year now,” Welter said of last year’s season-ending defeat. “But this is the state championship, so no extra motivation is really needed. But still, that was a tough loss, and it’s crazy that we get to play Byron in the state title game now. I guess we’re hoping to kill two birds with one stone Friday.”
There is a chance of high winds and rain in Champaign on Saturday, which would add another obstacle to the Sages’ offensive attack. They have run a spread attach on offense all season long, and they won’t change it now.
Senior quarterback Braden Snyder and receivers Devin Graham and Asher Bradd and tailback Alek Bundy have been building chemistry on and off the field for years — they led the Sages’ offensive attack last year when Byron squeaked past them 21-20 in the second round of the playoffs.
Snyder has thrown for 3,131 yards with 39 touchdowns and 8 interceptions this season, with Bradd (57 catches for 1,008 yard and 10 TDs) and Graham (45-947 and 13 TDs) as his main targets. Bundy has 913 yards and 13 TDs on the ground, and he has scored 23 touchdowns all together.
Welter’s 3 keys
1) “We’ve got to match their physical style.”
2) “It all starts with reading our keys.”
3) “We have to get everyone to the ball.”
What they said
Bundy: “We have to get past that little bump in the road we hit last year. We want to get that state championship.”
Welter: “A lot of guys have grown up a lot since (last year’s loss to Byron), and they’ve gotten a lot better over the year. ... Last year, we didn’t have this. This year we have experience.”
Byron’s last title run
Head coach: Everett Stine
Playoff scores: 62-13 over Braidwood Reed-Custer; 60-8 over Rockford Lutheran; 57-15 over Mt. Carmel; 49-13 over Newton; 41-8 over St. Joseph-Ogden.
Byron’s run to title game
Head coach: Jeff Boyer
Playoffs scores: 50-14 over Rock Island Alleman; 28-0 over Princeton; 49-7 over Lisle; 42-0 over Herscher.
Class 3A state championship game
No. 1 Byron vs. No. 1 Monticello
Where: Memorial Stadium (90,000), Champaign
When: 4 p.m. Friday
Radio/TV: 1330 AM, 102.3 FM; NBC Sports Chicago
Records: Both teams are 13-0
Playoff history: Byron is 38-23 in the playoffs; Monticello is 35-20
Last week: Byron def. Herscher 42-0; Monticello def. Carlinville 40-14
Fast facts: Byron won its lone state title back in 1999, while Monticello is in its first state title football game. But Monticello head coach Cullen Welter won three state titles as the head coach of Aledo. Byron head coach Jeff Boyer led the Tigers to their state title as the starting quarterback, while defensive coordinator Sean Considine was the starting running back and star defensive back. Byron has 5,784 yards of offense and has scored 588 points, while Monticello has 5,438 yards and 628 points.