Evanston’s football team features plenty of playmakers on the offense this fall, guys like running back Quadre Nicholson, quarterback Ben Tarpey and leading receiver Mike Axelrood.
But the Wildkits showed Friday night the list of playmakers wearing orange isn’t limited to the offensive side of the line of scrimmage.
Evanston’s defense stepped up against Conant’s high-powered rushing attack and delivered a 20-7 victory over the visiting Cougars at Lazier Field in a battle of unbeaten teams, pushing Evanston’s record to a perfect 3-0 on the year.
The Wildkits forced three turnovers to go with three touchdown runs by Nicholson on a night where the offense sputtered but the defense delivered. And the list of standouts on the ETHS defense was longer than the trip back to Hoffman Estates for the losers.
Nose guard Collin Olla-Chatman recovered a fumble and also stopped the Cougars on a 4th down and 1 play — all by himself — midway through the third quarter. Linebacker Luke Jensen recovered a fumble, defensive back Trenton Bertrand added a game-clinching interception in the last 90 seconds of play, and defensive end Danny White made it a personal challenge to keep the Cougars from gaining any decent field position in the second half.
Those efforts helped limit Conant, which had amassed over 400 yards on the ground in a Week 2 win over Elk Grove Village, to just 158 yards rushing and 7 total first downs. Sophomore Malik Frederick’s 60-yard dash for a score on the third play of the second half accounted for almost half of his team’s total yardage.
“We knew it would be a battle for four quarters tonight, and I’m really proud of our effort,” said ETHS head coach Mike Burzawa. “Our defensive coordinator, Coach (Eddie) Conley, really had his guys prepared tonight. A lot of guys made big plays on defense. There were a lot of momentum shifts, and there were times we could have executed better, but we kept grinding and working and we finished it off.
“The defense played excellent and I thought Danny White played a helluva game. That field position (and lack of same for the visitors) was big for us in the second half, because going up against that kind of (run heavy) offense, you want to get them in as many long yardage situations as you can.”
With the Kits nursing a 14-7 lead early in the fourth quarter, the Cougars had the wind at their backs but White flipped the field with a 15-yard sack of Conant quarterback Kevin Polaski on first down, eventually forcing the visitors to punt.
On Conant’s next possession, the Cougars took over on their own 19 and had 2nd and 1 with the clock starting to become a factor. That’s when White really took things personally, nailing Frederick for a 1-yard loss on second down and combining with Quintin Hamilton to stop Frederick short of the first down with less than 6 minutes to play.
“Our front seven played tough tonight and we only had one let-up,” White pointed out. “Aside from that, we shut down their running game pretty well. I really think it should have been a shutout, but we got caught shifting to a different front on that touchdown run.
“I came out kinda flat tonight and I knew it was really important that I bring my A game in the second half. I knew that field position was important in the fourth quarter and I just wanted to make sure I got to the ball whenever I could.”
Nicholson scored on runs of 1, 3 and 24 yards for the winners but on the night was limited to just 3 yards per carry, chalking up 94 yards on 31 attempts. Despite the addition of new sophomore starter Connor Groff, off the injured list to earn the start at left tackle, the Kits’ offensive line had trouble dealing with Conant’s 3-man defensive front.
Jensen’s fumble recovery early in the second quarter set up a 10-play, 60-yard scoring drive as Nicholson plowed over from the 1.
Three plays later, Olla-Chatman pounced on a loose ball and a leaping catch by Axelrood on 4th and 1 set up Nicholson’s 3-yard TD burst with just 39 seconds remaining before halftime.