Evanston’s new look on defense wasn’t a complete success Friday night against Glenbrook South.
But now the Wildkits know they have at least two more weeks to work on fixing whatever needs repair.
With new starters inserted into the defensive line, the Kits surrendered 262 yards rushing to the ground-oriented Titans but eased their way into the Illinois High School Association state football playoffs for the fourth year in a row with a 28-7 victory over South in Central Suburban League South division play.
Evanston earned the magic number 6 win needed to qualify for the postseason competition and, at 6-2 overall, could finally earn a home game for the Class 8A playoffs with a win over Niles North in the regular season finale next week.
Junior running back Quadre Nicholson (17 carrries for 154 yards) scored a pair of touchdowns for ETHS in the fourth quarter to finally put the game out of reach. GBS dominated the time of possession statistics, owning the football for approximately 30 minutes and 30 seconds of the 48 total minutes on the clock.
But the Titans only reached the end zone once against a bend-but-don’t-break Evanston defense that featured sophomores Connor Groff and Zach Myers on the defensive front line along with 6-foot-4, 350-pound junior Quentin Ivory, who switched from offense to defense just a week ago.
GBS (2-6 overall) averaged 4.9 yards on its 54 rushing attempts, but couldn’t prevent the Wildkits from reaching postseason play for the 8th time in the last 9 seasons under head coach Mike Burzawa.
“I told our guys that nothing’s easy, and I didn’t think for a second that this game was going to be easy,” Burzawa said. “Workmanlike is a really good way to describe the way we played tonight. It was a case of next man up for us with the changes we made. We had a lot of new faces get some experience on the defensive line, and if we as coaches feel we have to make adjustments in our personnel or in our defensive scheme, we feel like we have the depth this year to do that.
“GBS runs an offense that’s hard to play against. We’re excited to get that No. 6 win — that was our goal, to get an opportunity to play in the postseason — and now we have to take care of business against Niles North.”
Wildkit defenders, led by safety Mike Axelrood (14 solo tackles, 4 assists, 2 passes broken up), forced the hosts to turn the ball over on downs twice, and an interception by Gerrad Lamour and a fumble recovery by Danny White kept GBS scoreless until the final 5 minutes of the game.
Axelrood also caught a 9-yard touchdown pass from Ben Tarpey (11-of-15 for 129 yards passing) in the second quarter to go with a 1-yard plunge by Cion Miller-Smith that boosted ETHS to a 14-0 halftime advantage.
“Axe must have had what, a million tackles, because they were able to get to the second level of our defense a lot,” Burzawa pointed out. “He played a helluva game tonight.”
Miller-Smith’s 1-yard TD run climaxed a 10-play, 65-yard drive by the winners to open the game. The Kits also scored on their second possession, covering 53 yards in 7 plays as Axelrood grabbed his 8th receiving touchdown of the 2018 campaign.
A 28-yard punt return by Malik Ross set up an 18-yard scoring burst by Nicholson on the first play from scrimmage in the fourth quarter. The junior standout also answered the only GBS score — a 5-yard run by Harry Panagakis — by dashing 25 yards untouched to the end zone with 3 minutes, 38 seconds left to seal the victory.