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Tigers end season at Byron

Jake Kilby of Albert Lea rolls out to his right and looks to Emmitt Stevens in the flat Tuesday in the Section 1AAAA quarterfinals at Byron. — Micah Bader/Albert Lea Tribune

Jake Kilby of Albert Lea rolls out to his right and looks to Emmitt Stevens in the flat Tuesday in the Section 1AAAA quarterfinals at Byron. — Micah Bader/Albert Lea Tribune

BYRON — Turnovers set the tone for both halves of the Albert Lea football team’s opening postseason matchup.

The Tigers’ defense came up big in the first half with two interceptions and a goal-line stand, but a one-play drive by Byron after a fumble recovery propelled the Bears to a 28-14 win Tuesday in the Section 1AAAA quarterfinals.

“I thought we moved the ball well, but penalties and turnovers hurt us,” said Albert Lea coach Kevin Armbrust. “We were there. We were right there. Execution was just flawed at moments.”

Both teams were scoreless through the first half. Jake Kilby intercepted a pass inside Byron’s red zone to halt the Bears’ first drive, and the Tigers rode the momentum until halftime.

With five minutes left in the first quarter, Albert Lea stuffed Byron at the 1-inch line on fourth-and-goal, and a pick by Chris Enderson late in the second quarter gave the Tigers a chance to take the lead going into the locker room.

“Our line was holding their run game, and they couldn’t throw on us,” Enderson said.

However, the Tigers’ drive stalled when a pass from Kilby to Sean Brownlow at the Bears’ 1-yard line was negated because of a holding penalty. Albert Lea attempted a field goal 18 seconds before halftime, but it fell a few yards in front of the crossbar.

In the second half, it was Byron’s turn. After having the ball for only four plays in the second quarter, the Bears capitalized on their first play of the second half after recovering an Albert Lea fumble. Ryan Thompson found the end zone on a 44-yard run.

The deficit snowballed into a 21-0 Byron lead.

With 6:14 left in regulation, Kilby made it a two-possession game with a 12-yard touchdown run up the middle.

Byron responded about a minute later with a 54-yard touchdown run by Dan Fujan, his second of the half.

The Tigers cut their deficit back to 14 points with 38.5 seconds left on a 19-yard touchdown pass to Enderson, who ran a post route.

“It was supposed to be a fade, but I saw the defender go to the outside, so I just went inside, and I was open.”

Kilby led Albert Lea through the air by completing 6-of-11 passes for 98 yards and on the ground with 34 carries for 139 yards. Tim Christianson added 14 carries for 99 yards, which included a 50-yard run in the first quarter.

Christianson also led the team with nine solo tackles. Triston Westerlund had six solo and one assist, and Hunter Gade had five solo and two assists. All three players are seniors.

“I told them I was proud of them,” Armbrust said. “They stuck it out, and it wasn’t easy for these guys. It shows their fortitude and their toughness. They set a good example of perseverance.”

Albert Lea (0-8 overall) hasn’t won a game since Oct. 23, 2012. However, the Tigers had a close call this year with a 42-41 home loss against Austin.

Next season, the Tigers will be in the 28-team South Central District, while the rest of the teams from the Big Nine Conference will be in the 12-team Big Southwest District.

“We’ll play teams closer to our enrollment, but that would the only thing different,” said Albert Lea defensive coordinator Josh Bain. “They all know how to play football, and they all want to win.”