Sports clichés have a ring of truth to them and that’s why they become clichés.
The theory that you’re never as good as you look when you’re winning – and on the flip side, you’re never as bad as you look when you’re losing – rang true for Evanston’s football team Friday night in their 2021 home opener at Lazier Field.
Libertyville outplayed the Wildkits decisively on both sides of the ball to score a 32-13 non-conference victory and dropped the hosts to 1-1 on the season.
Now the Kits have to decide if the glass is half empty – or half full – according to still another cliché. Libertyville sacked junior quarterback Dylan Groff seven times and out-gained the Wildkits 359 to 228 in total yards.
The real concern for head coach Mike Burzawa and his staff was that the contest was decided in the trenches and Evanston still has programs like Palatine (at home next Friday), New Trier, Maine South and Glenbrook South remaining on the schedule that also have a reputation for physical play.
Libertyville’s bigger offensive line created holes to the tune of 252 rushing yards, and those smaller Wildcat defensive linemen used their quickness to disrupt most of Evanston’s plays before Groff and Co. could get untracked.
“They kicked our [butts] up front on both sides of the football tonight,” Burzawa said. “We struggled to get anything going all night on offense. We couldn’t get the running game going. Libertyville is a strong, physical team and we’ve got to get a lot tougher.
“I was hoping we could climb back into the game [trailing 16-7] in the third quarter, but Libertyville owned the third quarter. We didn’t execute well against their blitzes, either. When teams blitz, that’s an opportunity for big plays, but we didn’t do the job.”
Libertyville scored on its second offensive play from scrimmage, on a 5-yard run by quarterback Connor Dickson, but when Groff finally had time in the pocket, he answered with a 19-yard touchdown pass to Kamau Ransom that narrowed the deficit to 8-7 with 2 minutes, 2 seconds left before the halftime intermission.
The Wildcats, who earned a forfeit win over Mundelein Carmel (COVID-19 issues) in Week 1 of the season, didn’t settle for that slim margin. The visitors marched 75 yards in six plays and pushed the lead to 16-7 after Andrew Scott caught a halfback option pass from Tommy Latka (11 carries for 162 yards and a TD) for a score from 31 yards out.
That score came with 28 seconds on the clock and knocked the Wildkits back on their heels.
“Libertyville owned the line of scrimmage, and you have to give their coaching staff a lot of credit for that play right before the half,” said Burzawa. “They really stole the momentum with that jet sweep gadget pass.”
The Wildcats converted 2-point PAT attempts after all of their touchdowns to pad their point total (“They put on a clinic tonight with those swinging gate plays”). The winners opened the second half with a 65-yard TD burst by Latka, and Dickson’s 6-yard run completed their scoring with 4:22 left in the game. Groff had a 2-yard TD run with 3:15 left that was some consolation, but he was sacked again on the PAT try. He finished with 18 carries for 22 yards on the ground and completed 17-of-23 pass attempts for 141 yards.