TOLONO — The celebration could start before the final seconds ticked off the Hicks Field scoreboard.
And boy, what a party it'll be in southern Champaign County tonight.
Unity football is going back to the Class 3A state championship game, with the Rockets rallying for a 28-21 win against Mt. Carmel on Saturday afternoon in a state semifinal game, relying on its defense to make critical plays and for a run game to get going in the fourth quarter.
Unity quarterback Blake Kimball rushed for 142 rushing and three touchdowns on 19 carries, while junior running back Matt Brown was a force on the ground, particularly in the fourth quarter, and picked up 119 rushing yards on 16 carries.
Brown's 7-yard touchdown run with 5:10 remaining in the fourth quarter snapped a 21-21 tie and gave the Rockets (13-0) a lead they wouldn't relinquish against the Golden Aces (12-1).
"Our kids, they just don't give up," Unity coach Scott Hamilton said. "Credit to those guys for hanging in there together even when things look bad."
On the next Mt. Carmel series, Unity's defense forced a turnover on downs before Kimball and the rest of the Rockets' offense were able to run the clock out to set off a wave of emotions for Unity.
"It's a once in a lifetime moment," Unity senior safety Nat Nosler said.
Unity will play its first playoff game away from Hicks Field this season at 4 p.m. next Friday at Huskie Stadium in DeKalb.
The Rockets will square off against Byron (13-0) in the state championship game, trying to give veteran coach Scott Hamilton his first state championship in charge of Unity. The Hall of Fame coach has coached the Rockets since 1994 and guided them to five previous state championship games, but they've all come home with state runner-up finishes.
On Saturday, though, Hamilton and the rest of the Unity community was reveling in the latest playoff triumph.
"This is crazy," Brown said. "It doesn't even feel real right now."