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A week that began with a reminder of Evanston’s tradition for football excellence from a Super Bowl champion could only end one way.
Evanston ended a two-game losing skid with a 20-17 victory over winless Fremd Friday night in Palatine as senior running back Gio Milam-Pryor ran for a career-high 134 yards and two touchdowns and the defensive unit bounced back from a pair of sub-par performances to help the Wildkits dominate the second half.
Pryor squeezed through a hole provided by the right side of the offensive line – guard David Sanchez and tackle Carl Stegen – for a 4-yard TD run on a fourth down play at the end of the third quarter for the go-ahead score, and the Wildkits held on to even their season record at 2-2.
Former Evanston great Emery Moorehead, who played for the Super Bowl champion Chicago Bears back in 1985, spoke to the squad early in the week at practice to help set the tone for Evanston’s turnaround.
That turnaround isn’t complete, considering that the Wildkits were flagged for 10 penalties Friday night, botched an extra point try and also lost a fumble.
But veteran ETHS head coach Mike Burzawa was happy his team found a way to win.
“I reached out to Emery to talk to the team and he was very gracious about it. And we had our best week of practice so far,” Burzawa pointed out. “He’s a wonderful man, with a ton of knowledge, and that really kicked off our week in a positive way. Our circle got tighter this week and we were able to build from that.
“Tonight, it was ugly at times. But we stayed together, we battled and we won the second half. You find out a lot about yourself when times are tough, and we’ve started to mold together as a team now. I couldn’t be more proud of our coaches and our players. We’re starting to believe in ourselves.”
Trailing 10-6 in the third quarter, Evanston gambled on that 4th down run by Pryor. The 5-foot-8, 170-pound senior didn’t have a huge hole to run through, but a bigger back might have been stopped short of the end zone.
“Our offensive line was amazing down there,” said Pryor, who carried 6 times for 51 yards on a drive that was kept alive by a roughing-the-kicker penalty by the Vikings. “They got the double team and we got it done. I trusted in them and I trusted myself. That was a great call by Coach [Ryan] Healy.
“It’s a very huge win for us. We came into this game ready to play tonight. Now those losses are in the past, but there’s still more work to be done.
“I told the coaches we weren’t settling for kicking and keeping it close,” added Burzawa. “Gio stuck it in and that play was all about the offensive line. They took things to heart this week – we all did – and with our backs to the wall we were able to grind out a win.”
Pryor’s second score came with 60 seconds left in the third quarter. The Wildkits added what looked like some insurance after Sebastian Cheeks, starting his first game after missing the first three contests with an injury, blocked a punt to set the visitors up at the Fremd 13.
It took the winners 7 plays and almost 4 minutes to score from there, as Sean Cruz caught his first career TD pass, a 5-yard toss from Dylan Groff.
They needed that extra score because Fremd marched for another score, aided by Archie Cox’s 41-yard kickoff return plus a late hit penalty by ETHS.
Cox, the hosts’ highly-regarded leading receiver, was blanketed by Mark Canon Jr. after scoring the first Fremd touchdown against Evanston’s normal defense. ETHS defensive coordinator Eddie Conley assigned Canon to follow Cox wherever he lined up, and the Fremd senior only caught 1 pass in the final 3 periods. Evanston opens Central Suburban League South division play next Friday and will host New Trier at 7:30 p.m. in a Homecoming showdown.