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Brandon Hilliard caught a 61-yard touchdown pass on the first play from scrimmage to the delight of a capacity Evanston Homecoming crowd at Lazier Field Friday night.
Hilliard never stopped scoring — but neither did Niles West, which punched across the winning touchdown with just 35 seconds remaining to snatch a 47-42 shootout victory over the Wildkits in the Central Suburban League South division opener for both teams.
Hilliard tied a single game school record with 6 touchdowns — including three on the ground in his debut as a tailback — before Niles West quarterback Tommy Galanapoulos marched the visitors 74 yards in 9 plays and scored himself on a 1-yard plunge.
The Wolves (4-1) led 41-28 entering the final period, but the Wildkits wouldn’t quit and finally regained the lead on a 37-yard pass from Matt Little to Hilliard with 2 minutes, 48 seconds left in the contest. But Evanston’s defense couldn’t muster one last stop as the hosts fell to 2-3 on the season.
Hilliard grabbed 6 passes for 188 yards — including TD tosses covering 61, 9 and 37 yards — and added scoring runs of 4, 27 and 6 yards. The ETHS senior matched the 6 touchdowns scored by Rendell Massie in 2010 against Niles North, and also equaled the 3 receiving TDs racked up by Montel Wilburn in 1994 against Maine South.
He also had a potential 7th score — a 70-yard hookup with Little — called back because of a holding penalty just before halftime.
But all that offense just added up to a loss.
“I’m extremely proud of our effort. We were down 13 in the fourth quarter and we just kept battling back,” said Evanston head coach Mike Burzawa. “The kids played their hearts out, but we still have a lot of things to work on.
“Brandon is a playmaker and we wanted to get his hands on the ball more, that’s why we moved him to halfback. He’s never played back there before, but he’s used to having the ball in his hands. That was a helluva effort — but I’m sure he’d trade all those touchdowns in for a W.”
“I felt like I just had to go out there and play my heart out tonight,” said Hilliard, who two weeks ago tied the ETHS single game mark for receptions in a game. “I thought we played a good, hard game tonight on offense. We just had a couple of breakdowns.
“That’s the first time I’ve ever played running back. At first I didn’t like the idea because I’m not that big a guy (5-foot-7, 155 pounds) and I wasn’t sure about running into all those big linebackers. But the coaches thought I could do it and I just tried to do my best for my team. I still like receiving way more.”
Galanapoulos, who burned the Wildkits with three touchdown passes and beat them a year ago, connected on 30-of-37 passing attempts for 352 yards and 4 touchdowns in addition to his game-winning score Friday night.
Niles West led 14-0 before the Wolves’ offense even touched the ball, as Matt Galanapoulos returned a kickoff 81 yards for a score and Quran Spillman racked up a pick six against Little (16-of-29 for 270 yards) on a play that covered 86 yards.
Evanston charged ahead 21-20 by the end of the first period and nursed a 28-27 advantage at halftime after Hilliard (10 carries, 52 yards) took a pitchout and raced 27 yards to paydirt with 7:46 left in the second quarter.
Micquel Roseman added a career high 148 yards on 20 carries for the Kits, who travel to Glenbrook South next Thursday.