It took a little longer than Matt Little figured it would to shake off the rust and settle into his role as Evanston’s varsity quarterback.
But Little showed Friday night in Des Plaines why it’s worth the wait for Wildkit fans.
Little threw for a career-high 230 yards and completed 20-of-27 passes for three touchdowns as Evanston destroyed Maine West 48-7 in a Central Suburban League crossover game. Evanston evened its season record at 2-2 entering next week’s CSL South division opener against Niles West.
The Wildkits didn’t punt once Friday night after mustering only three offensive touchdowns in the first three weeks of the season. Little threw TD passes to three different receivers — 10 yards to Brandon Hilliard, 16 yards to Xhavier Hilliard and 17 yards to Rei Gaines — and running backs Micquel Roseman and Ben Drake each scored on the ground as part of a dominant offensive performance.
Linebacker Jalan Jenkins returned a fumble for a score for the second time this season as the ring leader of a defense that held the hosts (1-3) to a total of 136 yards.
Little’s confidence grew after he led the Kits to paydirt on their opening drive, covering 63 yards on 10 plays. ETHS built a 34-7 halftime lead behind Little’s 190 yards in the air, and then the junior quarterback relied mostly on the running game in what turned out to be a “running clock” slaughter rule contest.
Little missed half of his sophomore season with a punctured lung and was used mostly to help mop up lopsided victories once he did return to back up Immanuel Woodberry. He wasn’t comfortable in the pocket over the first three weeks this season, and often rushed throws before he could develop chemistry with his senior receivers.
Now they’re all on the same page.
“I feel like I’m settling in now,” said Little. “Practice went well this week, and tonight the offensive line gave me a lot of time to execute plays. We didn’t have many penalties, and the receivers finished plays after I threw them the ball. I think I did a better job of setting my feet and getting the ball off in time.”
“This season has been an emotional roller coaster for all of us,” pointed out ETHS head coach Mike Burzawa. “There’ve been a lot of highs and lows, and a lot of growing pains for all of us. Matt just needed some experience, because he didn’t really get many reps (repetitions) last year. He’s really worked hard with coach (Ryan) Healy, and tonight he had time to throw the ball and get it out to our weapons.
“During the week you could see Matt starting to get some confidence. I was very happy to see our offense get on a roll tonight. This was a good win for us.”
Brandon Hilliard, who last week tied a school record for receptions in a single game with 10 versus Highland Park, grabbed six more passes for 54 yards, including the first score versus the Warriors.
On their next drive, the Wildkits turned the ball over at the Maine West 20 on a fumble, but Jenkins scooped up a bad snap in Maine West’s shotgun formation and dashed 9 yards for a TD with 4 minutes, 3 seconds left in the first quarter.
Evanston marched 80 yards following a missed field goal attempt by West, with Roseman hitting paydirt on a 5-yard burst. A 16-yard scoring pass from Little to Xhavier Hilliard, and a 17-yarder to Gaines in the six minutes leading up to halftime set the rout in motion.
Roseman took a pitchout 15 yards for a score midway through the third period and minutes later Drake (11 carries for 108 yards) raced 61 yards for the final six points.
Maine West’s only score came in the second period, when backup quarterback Jake Riportella did most of the heavy lifting on a 56-yard drive following a failed onside kick attempt by ETHS. Riportella tallied on an 8-yard run.