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Evanston’s football team had two issues to deal with after toppling rival New Trier for the first time in a decade last week.
The first was the danger of a letdown, since the next opponent on the schedule – Niles West – didn’t figure as a contender in the Central Suburban League South division race this fall.
The other – more significant – was whether the offensive line would continue to improve after sputtering with inconsistent play to start the season.
The Wildkits answered both questions Friday night in Skokie, crushing Niles West 49-0 as six different players scored touchdowns in a running clock victory.
Evanston (4-2 overall, 2-0 CSL South) rolled up 306 yards on the ground behind the offensive line of Gabe Rosen, David Sanchez, Charlie Kremin, Sheldon Kinzer and Carl Stegen and scored on every possession but the final one of the game, when the Kits took a knee twice at the Niles West 20-yard line while the clock ran.
Niles West turned the ball over twice on fumbles, mustered only 152 yards of total offense, and even against Evanston’s reserves never penetrated the red zone while slipping to 2-4 overall, 0-2 in conference play.
Gio Milam-Pryor carried 12 times for a team-high 87 yards and two touchdowns, then sat out the second half with most of the other starters after building a 35-0 halftime lead. Backup quarterback Hank Liss (9-yard run) and running back Vorn Ellis (68-yard burst) scored their first varsity touchdowns to highlight the second half for the visitors.
“We executed at a high level on both sides of the ball tonight,” praised Evanston head coach Mike Burzawa. “We tried to coach against a possible letdown this week. But on Monday and Tuesday we didn’t have the intensity we needed in practice, and we didn’t feel good about where we were at.
“Wednesday was hump day when we started to prepare like we needed to. We’ve had a meat-grinder of a schedule before tonight, and a game like this one was huge for team morale. We told them the win over New Trier means nothing if we don’t execute against Niles West. Now we’re going into the final one-third of the season feeling like we’re starting to come together.”
Evanston’s upward trend began when the coaching staff made two critical moves in the offensive line. The monstrous (6-foot 6 inches, 335 pounds) Rosen shifted from tackle to starting center, and the improvement of some other linemen on the defensive side of the ball allowed Sanchez to devote his full-time focus to offensive guard.
“Coach Mike Partipilo and the offensive staff made some adjustments up front, and now I think they’re starting to jell together,” said Burzawa. “We’ve had some other guys step up on the defensive line, so that gives us more depth on both sides of the ball. And that’s what allowed Sanchez to go back to playing guard [full-time].
“We had thought about maybe playing Gabe at center all summer, but we didn’t do it at first. He’s really taken on a leadership role for us there, calling the signals [as a junior], and he’s blossoming into quite a football player.”
Sanchez said this isn’t the same ETHS squad that suffered non-conference losses to Libertyville and Palatine the first month of the season.
“The first two weeks were not that bad, but they were not good, either,” said Sanchez. “We were really all over the place as a team. The coaches and players, we just were not on the same page. But after the third game we started connecting more in practice, and those bonds just started to grow more.
“After the Palatine game we said we can’t keep losing like this, and we knew we had to start clicking. We had to play together as a family. I think putting me back at right guard was the right decision to help elevate our offense in general. I’ve played in the offensive line for a really long time and I feel more comfortable there. And when other people stepped up on the defensive line, I didn’t feel so much pressure anymore because they didn’t need me there.”
A fumble recovery by Elijah Salamon on West’s fourth play from scrimmage set up the rout Friday. Evanston scored six plays later on a 10-yard run by Milam-Pryor through a hole so big that he wasn’t touched by a single defender.
On the next possession, the Wildkits marched 85 yards in eight plays with Sebastian Cheeks accounting for an 8-yard rushing score.
Junior quarterback Dylan Groff (10-of-11 for 139 yards, 2 TDs) threw a 23-yard scoring pass to Jaydon Griffith early in the second quarter, completed three passes on another scoring drive that climaxed with Milam-Pryor’s 7-yard TD dash, and finished off the half with an impressive scoring drive that really killed West’s hopes.
With no timeouts remaining, and just 87 seconds to play, the Groff-led Wildkits maneuvered to paydirt again as Groff connected with Kamau Ransom on a slant pass for a 24-yard TD strike with 32 seconds still left on the Basrak Field clock.
Evanston hosts Glenbrook North next Friday night at Lazier Field at 7:30 p.m.