The emergence of Ben Easington as the chief running threat for Evanston’s football team didn’t leave a lot of carries for anyone else last fall behind the 1,000-yard rusher.
Now it’s Malik Ross’ turn.
An impact player on defense only for the Wildkits as a sophomore, Ross showed just how dangerous he can be Friday night as a two-way weapon as the Kits rolled over Chicago Hubbard 56-28 in the Hall of Fame game season opener at Lazier Field.
Ross ran for 3 touchdowns — covering 1, 26 and 2 yards — and also caught a 50-yard touchdown pass from Drew Dawkins. The Wildkits amassed 297 yards on the ground and 223 through the air in one of their most impressive opening night performances since head coach Mike Burzawa took over the program.
Burzawa admitted after the romp that he’s never had a player quite like the 5-foot-9 , 170-pound Ross while coaching at ETHS.
“Usually we have guys who are true tailbacks, or true receivers,” noted the veteran coach. “Malik is a tweener. He gives us a lot of versatility. He’s like our own Dennis Gentry from the 1985 (Super Bowl champion) Bears, someone who can line up wide, in the backfield or can help you in the kick return game. We’re going to try to use his abilities a lot more this year.”
The Gentry comparison would be lost on Ross — the junior wasn’t even yet born in 1985 — but Ross definitely likes the idea of contributing more on offense this year. Friday night, he carried 9 times for 55 yards and he also grabbed 3 passes for 83 yards.
“Playing running back was always the main thing for me until last year, and this is my first year at receiver,” Ross pointed out. “I like the idea of moving back and forth between slot receiver and running back. I am surprised that I got the ball that much tonight, but once things started clicking, I just felt it.
“I knew our skills were there on offense — and I knew we’d be hot like that tonight.”
Evanston scored on 5 of its 6 possessions in the first half to build a 35-12 advantage. Dawkins delivered long TD passes to Roman Hunt (57 yards) and Ross (50) and also contributed a 20-yard TD run for the winners. The senior quarterback completed 11-of-15 passing attempts for an even 200 yards and was intercepted once.
The hosts made it look easy in the first quarter, capitalizing on the long-snapping woes of the visiting Greyhounds to take a 21-0 lead. After the Wildkits marched 73 yards in just 5 plays to open the scoring on the Dawkins-to-Hunt bomb, bad center snaps in punt situations set up short scoring drives of 35 and 20 yards for the Kits.
Hubbard regrouped to close the gap to 20-12 midway through the second period, scoring on a 17-yard TD pass from Leonard Smith (6-of-14 for 75 yards) to Montrell Evans, and a 10-yard return of a blocked punt by Lorenzo Clark.
Evanston answered with Dawkins’ 50-yard pitch to Ross on a crossing pattern, and a 26-yard sprint for a score by Ross on the next possession.
Backup quarterback Ben Tarpey threw a 23-yard scoring pass to Fletcher Brown, and Ross and Michael Douglas (1-yard plunge) added scores on the ground to account for the second half scoring.
“I thought a big turning point in the game was in that second quarter,” Burzawa said. “We struggled for a series or two, Hubbard made a push, and we responded with two TDs.
“We came out extra sharp and crisp on offense tonight and we were able to spread the ball around and get a lot of people involved. There’s still room for improvement, but it was a great team victory on Hall of Fame weekend. We’re off and running.”