Daring Dylan Groff to beat you deep is one strategy opposing coaches can try to stop Evanston’s football team.
But that wasn’t the right choice for Glenbrook North Friday night at Lazier Field.
The Evanston junior quarterback threw four touchdown passes – all in the first half – and delivered a likely Illinois High School Association State playoff bid as the Wildkits blitzed the Spartans 41-10 for their fifth victory of the season.
Strictly speaking, the 5-2 Kits are still merely playoff-eligible, as head coach Mike Burzawa was quick to remind them in the postgame huddle. Central Suburban League South division toughies Maine South and Glenbrook South stand in the way of the automatic bid that goes to any six-win team.
But if Groff keeps progressing and burning enemy defenses like he did Friday night, when he completed 12-of-18 passes for 248 yards, there’s no telling how deep he can push the Wildkits into the postseason.
Glenbrook North’s decision to crowd the “box” with seven or eight defenders in the first half allowed Groff to unleash TD passes of 27 yards to Kamau Ransom, 75 yards to Sean Cruz, 19 yards to Ransom again and 12 yards to Mark Canon Jr.
The Wildkits haven’t taken many deep shots in the six previous games they’ve played but that changed against the Spartans (2-5 overall, 0-3 CSL South).
“We wanted to come out and attack them right away,” Burzawa pointed out. “We missed one early because of a drop, but after that we were able to stretch their defense and really soften them up then for the run. You always want to take whatever the defense will give you, and that’s what they gave us tonight.”
“We came up with a big game plan with a lot of smash routes against that Cover-3 defense,” added quarterback coach Ryan Healy. “I was surprised that they had seven or eight guys in the box and they really didn’t come out of it until the second half.
“Dylan’s got a really good arm, but he missed a lot of time working with the receivers this summer [because he also plays lacrosse] so his timing really wasn’t there until training camp. After the Palatine game, I told him we’ve got to have a vertical passing game if we wanted to move this offense forward. He’s made a lot of progress, and I think by next year he’s going to be an absolute stud.”
Three of Groff’s first four completions Friday went for scores. It was part of another efficient night for the Wildkit offense – Evanston didn’t punt once in the game – although Groff did toss an end zone interception in between all of those TDs.
Groff dialed long distance on the first ETHS play from scrimmage, but Cruz couldn’t complete the catch of a 50-yard attempt. Six plays later the Wildkits scored anyway when the elusive Ransom caught a screen pass and raced 27 yards untouched to paydirt.
After Josh Van Overmeiren blocked a GBN field goal try, Groff and the offense looked long again. This time Cruz grabbed the 75-yard bomb and built the lead to 14-0 with 3 minutes, 6 seconds left in the first quarter.
Evanston’s next score came at the end of a 6-play, 86-yard drive. Groff contributed a run covering 30 yards on a scramble that would have done Russell Wilson proud, then zipped a 44-yard TD pass to Ransom to make it 20-3.
The Wildkits had time for one more score before the half. Groff threw a pick to end one drive, but he dropped a dime to Canon Jr. in the right corner of the end zone on a play not many high school quarterbacks could make, for a 12-yard score with only 39 seconds left on the clock.
Evanston stuck mostly to the ground in the second half and tacked on touchdown runs by Gio Milam-Pryor (13 yards) and Skylar Lee Jr. (80 yards).
On defense, Evanston recorded three quarterback sacks and kept the heat on North quarterback Murphy Mulvihill (6-of-19 passing for 63 yards) all night. Mulvihill also carried 21 times for just 19 yards as the winners showed an edge of 491 to 139 in total yardage.
“Technically, five wins gives you the opportunity to qualify for the [State] playoffs. But six wins is the clincher,” Burzawa pointed out. “That’s one thing I love about high school football, that you have to earn your way into the playoffs.
“The next two weeks we play two teams that are having outstanding seasons, and it will really be a grind for us. We just need to keep improving and take care of the little things, on and off the field.”