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In a normal high school football season – remember what that was like, when games weren’t played in April? – now might be the point in time where high school offenses are starting to hit their stride and catch up with the defenses.
Five games into the 2021 campaign, that’s what’s happening at Evanston. But unfortunately for the Wildkits, there’s only one more week left in the season.
Evanston finally discovered some big-play magic on both sides of the ball as quarterback Sean Cruz threw two touchdown passes and ran for another Friday night in a 37-14 Central Suburban League South division win at Glenbrook South and Sebastian Cheeks returned an interception for a score.
The Wildkits, now 3-2, will face a foe still to be determined in Week 6 to conclude the season. COVID-19 issues in the North division will likely spoil the original intention of CSL athletic directors to play a crossover “bowl” game at the end of the year, leaving ETHS to scramble to find another opponent at this late date.
Offensive struggles that prompted the ETHS coaching staff to promote sophomore quarterback Dylan Groff to the varsity threatened incumbent Cruz’s playing time. The two underclassmen alternated series’ for the second straight week until Cruz, the first soph to start the season at the helm in program history last year, took control.
He uncorked a 51-yard touchdown pass to Kamau Ransom with just 46 seconds left in the first half, hit Ransom again for a 43-yard TD strike in the third quarter, and rolled down the sidelines for a 48-yard scoring run that sealed the victory with 1:49 to play.
Overall, Cruz completed 9-of-15 passes for a season-high 219 yards and two scores. He threw for four TDs in a season-opening win over Glenbrook North, but Evanston’s offense has been stagnant in losses to New Trier and Maine South since then. Ball security also surfaced as an issue for Cruz, who rarely turned the ball over as a sophomore starter.
“If you’re struggling on the kickoff return team, we’re going to replace you. We want to create competition at every position, because that brings out the best in everybody,” said Wildkit head coach Mike Burzawa. “I just loved seeing how Sean responded to that competition [with Groff] tonight. It’s good to see the way they both contribute and help each other.
“Big plays are a part of our offense. We’ve got playmakers, and we were able to get them the ball. That was the difference tonight.”
Tied at 7-7 after a 1-yard TD plunge by Cheeks, Evanston got the ball back deep in its own territory following a fourth down sack by Jamari Jenkins at the 27. Three plays later, Cruz connected with Ransom for the go-ahead score.
Cheeks intercepted a Michael Bauer pass and returned it 46 yards for his first pick-6 of the season, on the third play of the second half, and Cruz followed that score up with a 43-yard bomb to Ransom to run the count to 28-7.
Jason Nelson added a 26-yard field goal for the winners, who relished finding the end zone so many times Friday.
“We felt like we’d be able to stretch the field vertically on GBS,” noted Coach Burzawa. “Sean hit some big passes and we got some very good decisions from him, too. I think we’re just getting into rhythm now on offense. But the important thing is how much these kids really love to play together. They love playing football, and they love competing, and after that first quarter I thought we got rolling on both sides of the football.”
Cruz called it a team win and said he found himself in an unusual position, having to compete for playing time, when Groff moved up to the varsity.
“A couple of weeks ago, when Buzz pulled me aside and told me they were promoting Dylan, I tried to take it like a man,” he said. “But since I’ve started playing I’ve never had competition at the quarterback spot. I decided I could look at it two ways – either I would learn from my mistakes, or I would learn from the guy who ([played] ahead of me. I knew this had to help me get better. Competition only makes you better, and I needed to compete.
“Our offensive line was amazing tonight, the best they’ve played all year, and it all just came together for us. It shows on the scoreboard. I definitely think we’ve made big strides as a team this week.”