Lombard Montini awaits Byron in IHSA state semifinals
Tigers rolled Du-Pec 63-15 in previous round Nov. 11
BYRON — After Byron’s 63-15 win over Durand-Pecatonica and its 11th running clock in 12 games, its first real test awaits them in Lombard Montini in the 3A football semifinals. The Broncos beat Princeton 27-9 after trailing 3-0 at halftime.
Montini (9-3), hails from an entirely different competitive arena, one that has faced far tougher tests in the Chicago Catholic League, with an average enrollment of 1,203 for its regular season opponents.
“Byron’s a fantastic team, a great program,” Montini coach Mike Bukovsky said. “We’ve been watching them all year. It’s going to be a great challenge. We’re going to get ourselves ready and put together the best game plan we can.”
What Bukoysky hasn’t seen yet is a running attack as powerful and efficient as what the Tigers will bring to John Duffy Stadium in Lombard on Saturday afternoon. Against Du-Pec, they racked up close to 500 yards of rushing, led by Caden Considine’s 192.
For the year, Considine is averaging an astounding 11 yards a carry on 106 attempts. It was his 75-yard touchdown run on Byron’s first play from scrimmage that put the vaunted Tiger ground game in high gear.
This after Nathan Folk electrified the visiting Du-Pec crowd with a 97-yard kickoff return and very short-lived 7-0 lead. This was the only excitement for the Rivermen’s first trip to the quarterfinals, as Byron raced to a 42-7 halftime lead.
Brayden Knoll, who is second in rushing behind Considine, had one receiving score (from Ayden Shank) and went over the 900-yard rushing mark. Ashton Henkel tallied 37 and 43-yard rushing touchdowns and another on a 60-yard interception.
Henkel was part of a defensive unit that completely shut down Du-Pec quarterback Cooper Hoffman. He did go over 2,000 passing yards for the year, but was limited to 94 yards against Byron on 11-for-17 throwing.
Just as dangerous with his legs, Hoffman failed to break any long runs, finishing with 16 rushing yards.
Montini does not have a QB as dangerous as Hoffman, whom Byron coach Jeff Boyer thought may be the best athlete the Tigers had faced up until now.
But, senior running back Alex Marre has 1,335 rushing yards for Montini. Junior quarterback Gaetano Carbonara has a passing percentage of over 50 percent. They did have an advantage against Princeton, as the Tigers were severely hampered with injuries.
“I wasn’t sure at times who I could even put in the game because I’d go to call a personnel group and then somebody says you can’t go to this because this kid is out,” Princeton coach Ryan Pearson said. “We were kind of reeling there for a little bit in the third quarter. But that’s part of the game.”
Though Montini has faced more severe tests than Byron, this isn’t the same Montini program that won six state titles in higher classifications. It is the first time in the playoffs after consecutive 3-6 seasons. Additionally, they are young, using several sophomores and juniors.
“Our seniors went through a lot the last four years,” Bukovsky said. “They went through COVID-19 and we had some subpar teams that we weren’t used to having.”
Meanwhile, Byron has been in the 3A semifinals six straight years and have proven capable of mixing it up with the likes of a private school power like Immaculate Conception.
Montini’s enrollment is listed as 488, dropping the Broncos to Class 3A for the first time since 2000, when they lost to Oregon on the Hawks’ run to the championship game.
“Everybody’s kind of shocked to see us in 3A. In the Catholic League, there are 24 teams, and I think we’re 22nd or 23rd in enrollment. We’re certainly size wise right where we belong,” Bukovsky said. “We hope that our regular season schedule has helped us prepare to play a team like Byron. This year we played three teams that are in the semifinals this weekend (Providence 6A, Nazareth 5A, St. Laurence 4A), defeating two of them, as well as playing other playoff teams like Hillcrest (5A), St. Viator (4A) and Brother Rice (7A). We look forward to the opportunity to play such a well-coached team and program like Byron that has such a long history of success and excellence."
Byron moved into a third-place tie with Rochester for most points in a season with 728. The record is 805 set in 2016 by Peoria, a team that once gave up more points (80) in one game than Byron (67) has all year.
For the Tigers, breaking that record is secondary to beating Montini and going on to play the winner of Mt. Carmel (11-1) and Roxana (12-0) for a state title.
"Byron looks very impressive on film, as they execute at a very high level offensively,” Bokoysky said. “The offensive line gets off the ball extremely well, and all of their backs run with extreme purpose. This offense will be one of our biggest challenges this year. Their defense plays very physical and aggressive.”