It's hard to put into words the epic struggle between IC Catholic Prep and Byron in Saturday's Class 3A semifinal football game.
IC Catholic quarterback C.J. West gave it a shot.
"Just get in, no matter what. Just get in," he said.
One play after slipping on mud-slicked sod for a 5-yard loss as the last minute ticked down at Byron's Everett Stine Stadium, the senior ran it again from the 12. Hit at the 6-yard line, West kept driving until he scored the game's sole touchdown with 23.2 seconds left.
Joey Maci'gerace kicked the extra point, thrust his arms skyward. Khali Saunders recovered a fumble off Byron's last-gasp hook-and-ladder try and the 7-0 win over No. 3 seed Byron sent defending Class 3A champion IC Catholic (12-1) back to the state title game, 4 p.m. Friday in DeKalb.
The No. 5 Knights (12-1) meet No. 16 seed Pleasant Plains, a 41-2 winner over Anna-Jonesboro, in a game that'll have to go a long way to top Saturday's grinder.
"It was absolutely ridiculous. Their line was incredible," said ICCP senior Dylan Packer, among 2,865 pounds of linemen when the Knights' five-man defensive front countered the double-tight end, double-wing offense of Byron (12-1).
"It was one of the most nasty, muddiest obviously, greatest games I've ever been a part of. And I'm just happy we came out on top, I can't believe it," Packer said.
"Pretty physical out there, you know, but that's how football is when you play at Byron. You know, it's smashmouth," said Byron's stellar 6-foot-5, 280-pound sophomore Tyler Elsbury. "They kept up with us, they deserve it."
West surmounted interceptions by Byron's Zak Alberts and Tanner Klein on the Knights' two possessions before the score.
"I was kind of down, but my teammates picked me up and they never lost faith in me," said West, who passed for 136 yards and ran for 35.
Taking over at his 40-yard line with 1:26 remaining, West hit Kevin Cooke on a 10-yard out, Saunders on an 11-yarder and then the biggie, 32 yards to Saunders down the middle to Byron's 7-yard line.
"It was a good feeling," Saunders said. "It was 0-0 for most of the game, but then my name got called and I got us close enough so we could just get it in."
Led by Ricky Messlina with 77 yards rushing and Nolan Bielskis with 71, Byron held ICCP without a first down until late in the first half. Spanning the third and fourth quarters, the Tigers ran 10:07 off the clock on a 20-play, 73-yard drive that stalled at the Knights' 22-yard line.
"I felt like if we had finished that drive we're having a different discussion right now," said Byron coach Jeff Boyer.
His team squandered a fourth-quarter chance when, three plays after Colton Ingram blocked an ICCP punt, Byron fumbled at the Knights' 13-yard line. The Knights' Kemon Reese recovered.
"That's all our kids," said ICCP coach Bill Krefft. "There's no game plan or coaching thing that goes into it, it's our kids finding a way to overcome adversity and just figuring out a way to win a football game against a really good football team."