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Holy Family’s Connor Byrnes was not just happy, he was giddy.
The 5-11, 250-pound athlete bounded about the sidelines after the Fire’s 49-28 Class 4A semifinal victory over Princeton. He slapped pads and jumped toward the railing restraining fans to scream in jubilation at anyone within shouting range, appearing much more nimble than someone his size had a right to be.
“This is incredible,” Byrnes yelled over the din of cheering admirers. “Earlier in the season, we had the choice to be a disappointment for Holy Family or be a success for Holy Family. We decided on success.”
Byrnes, a fullback/defensive lineman who rushed for 47 yards and a touchdown, was referring to way Holy Family’s season began. At one point, the Fire was 2-3, coming off a humiliating 60-7 loss to Hutchinson.
Since that time, the team has reeled off eight consecutive victories. Friday’s victory lifted the Fire into the Prep Bowl for the second time in three years.
“You know, a lot of people ask about that Hutchinson game,” Holy Family coach Dave Hopkins said. “But in our first game of the season, we were losing 40-0 to Glencoe-Silver Lake. At that point, I wasn’t thinking about getting to the Prep Bowl. I was just thinking about survival.”
With a postseason full of close calls, Holy Family had already earned its survival badge before it faced Princeton, a team with its own story of redemption. The Tigers had lost 22 straight games before this season’s miraculous run.
Holy Family, which had won three straight playoff games by a touchdown or less, made this one easier.
The Fire raced out to a 35-6 halftime lead, led by mercurial sophomore Chazz Johnson. He rushed 18 times for 210 yards and two touchdowns and added a 45-yard fumble return for a score after halftime to staunch any thoughts of a Princeton rally.
The game marked Princeton’s first in the state semifinals. It finished the season 8-5.
“We hadn’t won a game in two years,’’ Princeton coach Roy Hanenburg said. “No stretch of imagination, this was a heck of a good season.”