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There were probably quite a few fans in the stands at Memorial Stadium Friday night who didn’t know just what it felt like to beat New Trier in football.
Evanston senior defensive back Peter Martell helpfully provided the answer.
“Omigod, it’s beautiful!” exclaimed Martell after the Wildkits ended a decade of dominance by the Trevians in emphatic fashion, in front of a capacity Homecoming crowd.
Evanston rolled to a 38-24 victory, its first over New Trier since 2010, behind career performances from Sebastian Cheeks at running back and junior quarterback Dylan Groff.
You didn’t need the fingers on both hands to count the number of touches for Cheeks in his three-year varsity career on offense, until Friday night when he carried 11 times for 119 yards and two touchdowns.
And Groff, a junior, completed 12-of-17 passes for 243 yards and tossed a pair of TD bombs to Kamau Ransom covering 52 and 65 yards.
Add an inspired and intense defensive effort and the Wildkits improved to 3-2 overall and got off to a successful start in Central Suburban League South division play. New Trier fell to 3-2 despite the efforts of senior quarterback Nevan Cremascoli, who hit on 30-of-46 passes for 265 yards and three scores.
The ETHS victory extended Evanston’s lead in the all-time series between the two rivals. The Wildkits now own 55 wins to New Trier’s 52 in their head-to-head showdowns that began back in 1913. There have also been six ties.
The hosts smacked New Trier in the face with a score on their first play from scrimmage Friday, a 52-yard dart from Groff to Ransom, built a 24-7 halftime advantage and never looked back.
Actually, that statement isn’t 100% accurate. Cheeks admitted that he looked back on the fact that he was stopped at the 1-yard line in the final minute of last year’s 14-7 loss to the Trevians and couldn’t wait to deliver some payback.
“To be honest with you, I don’t like those guys over there,” said Cheeks with a nod to the visitors’ sidelines. “It was an emotional game for us tonight, and we got the job done.
“I knew we hadn’t beaten them in a very long time and it was time to stop that streak. Our preparation was at an all-time high this week – I was up until 2 a.m. watching film every night – and because I’m a team guy, I just wanted to help any way I could. This is the game I wanted to come back for [after missing the first 3 games with an upper body injury] because of the situation last year, where they stopped me on the goal line in the clutch and we lost. I’ve been waiting for this game for months.”
ETHS head coach Mike Burzawa knew that Cheeks, a 6-foot-2 220-pound North Carolina recruit, could add another dimension to the offense after the senior returned last week and played only linebacker.
“Sebastian was definitely part of our game plan and I knew this one was personal for him,” said Burzawa on the fringe of a mob scene in celebration on the Lazier Field turf. “It’s always been in our plans for him to run the ball. Last week we just wanted to let him get his feet under him [in his first game back], but he was a big part of the game plan this week.
“Too many times when we’ve played them we let them off the hook, like we did last year. We did an awesome job tonight and I couldn’t be prouder of our guys. We had a great week of preparation and we got off to a hot start with a couple of touchdowns that really helped us set the tone. We were able to dictate the tempo after that.
“We had lots of big plays and this is really a milestone win for us.”
With the Wildkits nursing a 7-0 lead, Cheeks brought the crowd – and his teammates – to their feet with a 10-yard TD run in which he plowed over at least three Trevian defenders trying to corral him.
New Trier countered with a 15-play, 77-yard scoring drive, but Cheeks followed up his physical effort with a display of his speed that earned him a four-star ranking from national recruiting experts on defense. He dashed 50 yards to paydirt on a fourth down burst with 4 minutes, 22 seconds left in the second quarter, and Ben Barney added a 23-yard field goal just three seconds before halftime to boost the lead to 24-7 at the intermission. A 1-yard TD plunge by Gio Milam-Pryor and Groff’s 65-yard strike to Ransom accounted for the second half scores by ETHS. Ransom finished with five catches for 164 yards for the winners.