Going into their Sept. 3 battle against Homewood-Flossmoor at home, Evanston fans were wondering how their football squad would respond after being shut out 35-0 by Loyola the week before. Head coach Mike Burzawa knew his team would be focused and knew their home-opener would be an important game, but he had no idea it would be an emotional one as well.
Just one day before their game, senior wide receiver James Brown’s father James Sr. passed away after a long fight with cancer, and the playmaker’s status for even showing up for the match was in doubt. Brown showed up and took the field with a heavy heart. He felt his team needed him.
Defense was optional in this game as both squads went back and forth on the scoreboard. In the first quarter, the Vikings struck first, going down the field 76 yards on just two plays, but Evanston struck back with senior running back Rendell Massie scoring on a three-yard rush. The Kits were able to open up a 24-14 lead with 1:35 left in the second quarter when Massie ran in for another touchdown to give his team a 17-point lead.
Then business turned sour in the second half as the Vikings scored the next 22 points which gave them a 36-24, lead going into the fourth quarter, when things got a little crazy.
Massie scored another touchdown to open the final period, but the Vikings returned the ensuing kickoff for a touchdown. On Evanston’s next offensive snap, Massie carried the ball in the backfield, but then passed the ball down the field to Brown for an incredible 71-yard touchdown.
The Vikings held the lead in the final minutes, but with three minutes left senior quarterback Byron Dawkins threw a strike downfield to Brown for another score, putting the Kits up. On the ensuing kickoff, the Kits’ senior linebacker Dillin Randolph scooped up a Vikings fumble and cruised into the end zone, eventually sealing Evanston’s win, 52-49.
The obvious star of the contest was Brown, who on the day following his father’s passing had the game of a lifetime, by catching five balls for 236 yards and scoring three touchdowns. Brown knew in his heart that his father was watching over him, giving him the strength he needed.
“I knew he probably wanted me to play,” Brown said. “I’m sure he’s probably looking down on us right now, popping champagne for the celebration.”
He also said the real motivation for him to play was that he felt required to help his team to victory.
“A lot is going through my head right now,” he said. “I’m blessed to play for this team. I wouldn’t trade playing for this team for anything in the world. I wouldn’t know where I’d be without them.”
After their emotional win against Homewood-Flossmoor, the Kits stayed home the next week to face Niles North and, as in their last game, Evanston expressed a flare for the dramatic.
These Vikings took an early lead of 10-0, but Evanston led 21-7 by halftime. The Kits’ ground game, led by Massie, dominated the game. The senior star back rushed for 315 yards on 26 carries and two touchdowns against an undermanned Niles North squad. With the contest knotted up at 31-31, with less than nine minutes to go in the game, Niles North mounted an eight-play, 74-yard drive ending with a touchdown. They missed the extra point, however, leaving Evanston an opening.
The Wildkits started their next possession the same way they started their previous 11 plays from scrimmage – with a run by Massie. In fact, up to that point, Massie carried the ball in every one of Evanston’s offensive plays in the second half.
A holding penalty put the Kits in a first-and-20 hole, but Dawkins threw a screen pass to junior fullback Ray Bahr for 62 yards for an Evanston touchdown. After a successful extra point, they took a 1-point lead with three minutes left.
Niles North took the ball back, but on the second play of the drive, ETHS senior lineman Andre Laden picked up a fumble to seal Evanston’s wild 38-37 victory.
Evanston is now 2-1 on the season and has some momentum going into tomorrow night’s match-up at Deerfield. They finish their two-game road trip next Saturday at Waukegan.