BYRON -- Burlington Central gave host Byron, the No. 4 ranked team in Class 3A, all it could handle Friday night, but came up short in a 35-14 decision that was much closer than the final score indicated.
The Rockets were knocking on the door of making it a one-score game in the third quarter, but came away empty on a pair of red zone possessions, including a devastating 1st-and-goal situation from the 1.
"It was that end of the third quarter. That was the game right there -- two goal line stands. We just couldn't get the ball in the end zone," said Central coach Brian Melvin.
Leading 21-14 after an entertaining first half, Byron put together an impressive 8-play, 81-yard drive to extend the advantage to 27-14 with 8:14 left in the third quarter.
The Rockets answered with a solid drive of their own that featured a 12-yard run from Nate Figurski and 13 and 21-yard scampers from junior Nick Termini, who finished with 65 yards on 11 carries. However, the Tigers' defense held firm and the Rockets fumbled on a fourth down pitch from the 2.
"We're going to run our offense. Our offense scores points," Melvin said. "We did not execute. We fumbled that pitch on fourth down and that was a touchdown."
Central was right back in business one play later as Ryan Doubek intercepted Pauly Rico's pass at the Tigers' 10. After the first three Rocket plays netted just three yards, Johnny DiCostanzo was sacked for a 13-yard loss on fourth down.
"There were definitely missed chances. It really hurts because if we punch one of those in, we're right back in it," Termini said.
Central had one final chance when Doubek scooped up a fumble and returned it 40 yards to the Byron 44 with 4:12 left in the fourth quarter, but Dylan Collins' 55-yard interception return for a touchdown two plays later sealed the victory.
"We took the number four team in the state and it was a ballgame," Melvin said. "We have to fix some things, but we'll be fine. We got a little fatigued at the end and that's what they do to you."
Byron marched 68 yards for a score on the game's opening drive, but Termini's 35-yard kick return set up Michael Kalusa's impressive 25-yard touchdown grab from DiCostanzo in the back corner of the end zone.
The Tigers scored on consecutive second quarter drives for a 21-6 lead, but Central closed the gap to 21-14 at the half as Matt Ganziano's 18-yard catch and run on a screen pass set up Termini's 1-yard scoring plunge with: 15 left.
Central's defense limited Byron's potent rushing attack to 235 yards on 50 attempts, but the Rockets mustered just 155 yards of total offense. After completing 6-of-9 passes for 63 yards in a solid first half, a harried DiCostanzo went 2-for-11 with three interceptions in the second half.