Mendota quarterback Bryson Prusator scrambles to avoid the tackle attempt of Byron’s Michael Criscione on Oct. 6 at Byron. (Reporter photo)
BYRON – While Byron’s offense may be tagged as extremely one-dimensional, the arsenal it possesses in that offense is off the charts.
No less than 13 Tigers carried the football in their vaunted rushing attack and six different players scored at least one touchdown. That all led to a lopsided 59-7 victory over Mendota in a Big Northern Conference game at a rainy Everett Stine Stadium in Byron on Oct. 6.
The loss dropped the Trojans to 1-6 overall and 1-5 in the conference, while the state’s Class 3A fourth-ranked Tigers stayed perfect at 7-0 overall and 6-0 in the league.
It’s no secret to opposing defenses that Byron is going to run the football 99 percent of the time, but guessing who is going to get the carry on a given play is what’s confusing. The Tigers ran the ball 51 times out of their 54 total offensive plays against Mendota, and they gained all 508 yards on the ground. In those 51 rushes, the leading ball carrier was Michael Criscione with only 12 totes. He picked up 102 yards to pace the Byron attack, while quarterback Pauly Rico gained 98 yards in five attempts and Ricky Messling totaled 92 yards on nine carries.
It was a different Byron back, Nolan Bielskis, that got his team off and running soon after the opening kick. The Tigers started their opening drive at their own 33-yard line, and on the eighth play of the possession, Bielskis bolted 33 yards to the end zone for the game’s first score. Byron tried to run in the two-point conversion, but Mendota managed to stop the try.
Mendota couldn’t generate any offense on its first possession and punted back to Byron. Bielskis gathered in the Kiandre Morris offering at the Tiger 29-yard line and he took it all the way back 71 yards for a touchdown. Criscione ran in the two-point conversion for a 14-0 Tiger lead.
The Trojans’ second possession ended like the first, with a Morris punt, and Byron took over at its own 20. The Tigers used up nearly four minutes of clock and marched 80 yards in 10 plays, capped off by a Criscione 23-yard touchdown run with 1:51 left in the opening stanza. Mason Snodgrass kicked the extra point.
Mendota’s first scoring opportunity of the game came on its ensuing possession when it moved the ball 49 yards down to the Byron 14-yard line, where on fourth down, an Edwin Angulo 31-yard field goal attempt was no good.
After an exchange of possessions, the Tigers reached the end zone one more time before intermission when Rico put the exclamation point on a three-play, 73-yard drive with a 59-yard touchdown run with five minutes left in the half. Criscione’s successful two-point run made it 29-0.
Byron’s second-half offense picked up where it left off at the break when it scored three times in the third period to go ahead by the 40 points needed to activate the running clock.
Mendota punted on its first possession of the third quarter and Byron set up with excellent field position at its own 48. On the first play of the series, Ricky Messling rambled 52 yards to paydirt, followed by a Bielskis two-point run to make it 37-0.
Then after a Mendota fumble was recovered by Byron’s Colton Ingram at the Tiger 46, the home team needed less than two minutes to find the end zone again on a 17-yard TD run by Messling. Bielskis ran for the two-pointer and the running clock began.
The Trojans’ second lost fumble in as many possessions gave the ball back to Byron at the Mendota 36-yard line, and the Tigers’ Tyler Camling got in on the scoring parade when he sprinted into the end zone from 24 yards out. Snodgrass booted the extra-point kick for a 52-0 Byron lead.
The Tigers tacked on one more score in the opening minutes of the fourth quarter on a 36-yard TD run by Kevin Claunch. Snodgrass added the PAT kick.
Mendota’s lone touchdown followed when it faked a punt and Morris rambled 55 yards for a score. Angulo kicked the extra point with 7:53 left in the game.
Until that run by Morris, the Trojans had less than 100 yards of total offense. They finished with 131 yards. Morris gained 74 yards on 10 carries.