For a team as young and inexperienced as Evanston’s football team was coming into the season, the learning curve had to include some adversity.
The Wildkits faced plenty of it Friday night on the road at Conant.
Back-to-back special teams breakdowns and 9 penalties whistled against the Wildkits in the first half alone weren’t enough to prevent Evanston from rallying for its third straight victory. A 97-yard touchdown run by Ben Easington and Drew Dawkins’ 10-yard TD pass to Andrew Baumann in the second half produced a 24-17 triumph and marked the first time since 2012 that ETHS has opened the season with three straight wins.
“You find out about your character when you face adversity, and we found out something about ourselves tonight,” said ETHS head coach Mike Burzawa. “I’m really proud of our guys. We were down 17-10 at halftime and we should have been up 17-10. But the second half was outstanding for us because we didn’t panic. We stuck to what we were doing offensively and defensively and it paid off.
“We had way too many penalties in the first half and that took us out of our game plan. But you have to give Conant credit. We knew they’d be ready for us, and they played their hearts out.”
Easington, in only the third career game he’s played as a running back, carried 18 times for 208 yards and broke the winless Cougars’ hearts with a long TD dash that not only turned the game around but might have turned Evanston’s season around, too. The non-conference win in the first crossover contest against a Mid-Suburban League foe puts the Kits halfway to the promised land — a berth in the Illinois High School Association state playoffs.
A loss might have been difficult to bounce back from with unbeaten Barrington paying a visit to Lazier Field next week, and matchups with Maine South and New Trier also looming.
An interception by sophomore Michael Axelrood on fourth down stopped a Conant drive and left the KIts with the ball on their own 3-yard line, trailing 17-10 with 8 minutes remaining in the third quarter.
On the first play from scrimmage, Easington raced 97 yards to paydirt off right tackle, changing the score and the momentum at the same time.
“We were having trouble in the first half getting our running scheme down, and we had to change it because Conant wasn’t playing defense like we’d practiced against all week,” Easington pointed out. “That was what we call a weak run. I hit the first guy (defender), bounced to the other side and just ran all the way to the end zone.
“I expected to get 5 or 6 yards out of it, not a big run like that. Our big boys won the battle against their big boys and at the end of the game our line just took over.”
“That run was a big momentum changer for us,” Burzawa added. “Once Ben gets his swagger on out there, he gets tougher as the game progresses. And Drew’s touchdown toss was a great play, too. We got them at the right time with our play action.”
Evanston’s winning drive covered 80 yards in 14 plays before Dawkins hooked up with Baumann for the 10-yard completion with 9 minutes, 3 seconds left in the fourth quarter. Dawkins also ran 6 yards for a touchdown in the first half, and senior Owen Ennis booted a 36-yard field goal to account for Evanston’s other points.
Junior Andre Hutchins, making his first varsity start at defensive end, recovered a fumble at his own 48 with 4:19 left to seal the victory.
Evanston’s defense limited the losers to 81 yards rushing. Conant quarterback Brian Modelski completed 12-of-25 passes for 126 yards.