Evanston’s football team improved to 4-0 Friday night with the program’s biggest road victory in at least 20 years.
Somewhere, the late Steve King was looking down and smiling.
Putting together a dominant display on both sides of the ball, the Wildkits won a battle of unbeatens at Barrington by a decisive 32-13 margin. Quarterback Ben Tarpey passed for a career-high 271 yards and two touchdowns and Malik Ross added a pair of short TD runs, while the defense limited the Broncos to 74 yards rushing and forced a couple of turnovers.
The Kits are off to their best start since Mike Burzawa took over as head coach. Only two other Evanston teams in the past 21 years — the 2003 squad and the 1997 team that was recently inducted into the ETHS Hall of Fame — won their first four games.
The trip to Barrington resurrected memories of King, the team’s ex-defensive coordinator who passed away in 2014.
“We came here knowing that Barrington had our number the last time we were here, and that was the last game (in 2013, a 23-8 Class 8A state playoff loss) where we were blessed with Coach King’s presence,” Burzawa said. “And I found out that Coach King gave a speech to these seniors (when they were 8th graders) at a 4th of July event that year, so they really remember him.
“This was Steve King Week for us as a team — and that’s what makes this win so special. This one was for him. Great teams find a way to win on the road, and that’s what we did tonight. No doubt this was a big win, one of our biggest in a long time.”
Tarpey (16-of-23 for 271 yards and one interception) threw TD passes on plays covering 25 yards (to Gerrad Lamour) and 26 yards (Ross) to break the game open in the third quarter and force the Broncos — who had defeated Maine South the previous week — into catchup mode.
Tarpey’s scoring strike to Lamour came with the Wildkits nursing a 13-7 lead, on a 4th down and 1 yard to go play, underlined the faith that the ETHS coaching staff has gained in its first-year starter at quarterback.
“We came into this game looking to pass because we knew their secondary was their weakest link,” said the senior quarterback. “And we took advantage of that. We had a lot of trust in our receivers, especially when Barrington played man-to-man, and they just balled out on those plays tonight.
“Coach did a great job of calling plays tonight and we knew we had a 1-on-1 matchup with Gerrad in that situation. We’ve been working all week on that short post route and it paid off tonight.”
On defense, Danny White’s two quarterback sacks against Barrington junior Tommy Fitzpatrick set an early tone. Fitzpatrick led the Broncos in the air (11-of-16 passing for 143 yards with one interception) and on the ground (12 carries for 26 yards), but the hosts only mustered two scoring drives in front of a near-capacity crowd in the team’s home opener.
Evanston marched 65 yards in just 5 plays to open the scoring in the first quarter, with a pair of Lamour receptions netting 55 yards to set up a 1-yard plunge by Ross. Barrington countered with a 29-yard option run by Fitzpatrick, but the Wildkits grabbed the lead back with another long march that resulted in a 3-yard TD run by Ross.
Freshman placekicker Jason Nelson, just promoted to the varsity, missed a 25-yard field goal as time expired in the first half and ETHS settled for a one-touchdown advantage at the break.
“I’m so proud of these kids, because of the way we came out and executed and because we stayed aggressive in the second half,” Burzawa pointed out. “Our coaching staff did an unbelievable job of preparing these guys this week.”