Two quarters away from ending Maine South’s two decades of football dominance in their head-to-head rivalry, Evanston Township High School couldn’t seal the deal Friday night in Park Ridge.

The Wildkits discovered that outplaying the Hawks for half a game – a rare achievement for many past ETHS squads – didn’t count for much as the visitors fell flat in the second half of a 31-23 defeat.

Instead of earning their first win over South since 1999, and grabbing at least a share of the Central Suburban League South division crown, the Kits had to watch another championship celebration for the hosts (7-1, 4-0) on their Senior Night.

Leading 23-14 at halftime, Evanston (5-3 overall, 3-1 CSL South) couldn’t get any stops on defense and only mustered five first downs total in the second half. Maine South quarterback Rowan Keefe ran for one touchdown and threw for another, while Sam Taglia added a 32-yard field goal.

ETHS head coach Mike Burzawa couldn’t help seeing the glass as “half” empty.

“We just didn’t do anything in the second half – offense, defense or special teams,” said Burzawa. “We didn’t compete well enough. We need to have the energy we had in the first half for four quarters. We had them on the ropes, and we didn’t finish them off.

“We played a heck of a first half, but Maine South got the momentum and played with spirit and energy like we did in the first half. We have to learn from this. We can control our own energy and high school football isn’t about just playing well for a half. Every team in the [Illinois High School Association] state playoffs is a good football team, and to win and advance you have to play all four quarters against all of them.”

Friday’s loss was critical to the Wildkits in terms of postseason play, with a date against Glenbrook South – another playoff qualifier already – next Friday to conclude the regular season. The difference between a 5-4 final record and 6-3 (or 7-2) is significant when it comes to first-round playoff match-ups.

Evanston enjoyed a halftime advantage thanks to a remarkable series of plays that saw each team score a touchdown in the final 17 seconds before the intermission.

On a play where he was knocked to the turf – and no one wearing a striped shirt apparently saw anything wrong with that – Evanston receiver Mark Canon Jr. deflected a pass right into the arms of South defender Frank Bartell, who raced 47 yards for a score to cut the deficit to 16-14.

It didn’t take Canon long to earn some payback. He took the ensuing kickoff 95 yards to paydirt with a dazzling move to emerge from a maze of would-be Hawk tacklers, spinning left to break free and going the distance as time expired on the clock.

A yellow flag dropped on the 30-yard line left Wildkit fans in five minutes of agony while the referees discussed the call. They picked up the flag, much to the consternation of South head coach Dave Inserra, who called back-to-back timeouts during the point after touchdown try to complain to the officials.

The Wildkits also counted a pair of TD passes from Dylan Groff to Kamau Ransom, covering 73 and 3 yards, and added a safety when Keefe was sacked in the end zone following a goal-line stand by the Hawks in the second quarter.

Ransom has now caught nine TD passes on the season. Groff completed 11-of-22 passes for 136 yards, with that lone interception, and also carried 17 times for a game-high 146 yards for the Kits.

Maine South relied on the one-two offensive punch of Keefe and Mike Sajenko. The senior QB completed 16-of-23 passes (1 interception, by Canon) for 165 yards and rushed 16 times for 69 more yards. Sajenko did most of his damage in the second half and finished with 22 carries for 109 yards.