Over the first three weeks of the high school football season, the only thing special about Barrington High School was the program’s strength of schedule.
But after going winless while facing a gauntlet that included Maine South, Prospect and Warren, the Broncos turned in a “special” performance at Lazier Field in Evanston Thursday night.
A pair of special team plays – a 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown and a punt that prevented the Wildkits from mounting a fourth quarter comeback drive – earned a 28-14 triumph for Barrington to conclude the non-conference portion of Evanston’s schedule.
Now, Evanston will have to regroup after falling to 1-3 overall. The Wildkits will face New Trier on the road next Friday to open the Central Suburban League South division season.
The hosts mustered almost no offense, with both touchdowns coming in a span of 2 minutes, 1 second at the end of the first half. ETHS was limited to a season-low 57 yards rushing and quarterback Dylan Groff completed 18-of-31 passes for 190 yards, including a 60-yard touchdown pass to Preston Brown.
Barrington’s junior running back, Dillon Fitzpatrick, returned that kickoff 99 yards to hit pay dirt in the second quarter and also added three rushing TDs for the visitors. He finished with 105 yards on 19 attempts.
“This is a disappointing loss,” said Evanston head coach Mike Burzawa. “Give Barrington credit. We had opportunities tonight, but we didn’t get the job done.
“I’m disappointed we were not able to get our ground game going at all, and because of that there were times when we hung our defense out to dry. It was a 14-12 game (at halftime) and we were not able to move the chains at all in the second half. We got those two big plays on offense and then went 3-and-out the whole third quarter. That really changed the momentum in the game.”
Still, for the crowd on and off the field before the game began, there was a joyous pageantry of the return of the football season. There was the block party, the cheers for Evanston’s 1971 team, which went 8-0, and was inducted into the Athletic Hall of Fame Thursday and the halftime kids run on the field. The RoundTable’s Saul Lieberman caught both that as well as the game action.
Fourth quarter finish
Trailing 14-12, the Broncos finally mounted a game-winning drive that required just 42 yards following an Evanston punt early in the fourth quarter. Fitzpatrick dashed 9 yards up the middle for the score, and a PAT pass from Payton Soske to Fitzpatrick pushed the Barrington lead to 20-14 with 7:48 remaining.
On Evanston’s next possession, Will Nazha’s interception thwarted the hosts. And when the Broncos’ drive stalled, punter Bryce Koch buried a kick just inches from the goal line to shove the Wildkits into a hole they couldn’t climb out of.
Originally, the officials ruled a touchback because the Barrington player covering the kick had his feet in the end zone. But the call was reversed and the Wildkits took over on the 1 instead of on the 20.
“That punt looked to me like it was in the end zone,” said Burzawa, “but obviously it wasn’t so they changed the call. We had a long way to go after that.”
Barrington’s defense stopped quarterback Groff for a 1-yard loss on fourth and 1 at the 25, allowing Fitzpatrick time and opportunity to score again with 1:32 remaining on a 19-yard burst.
Unable to shift the offense into high gear until the end of the first half, the Wildkits dug deep into their playbook after falling behind 6-0. An option pass from Hank Liss to Mac Mettee (nine catches for 95 yards) covering 28 yards was the key play that helped ETHS march 57 yards in seven plays, as Damarion Timberlake scored on a 3-yard run.
Barrington countered in spectacular fashion with Fitzpatrick’s 99-yard sprint down the right sideline. Then, only three plays later, Groff found Brown on a slant pattern and he reached the end zone with 40-seconds left in the half.
While Evanston’s offense took a step back, the defensive unit has taken big strides forward after being burned for 92 combined points in the first two games.
“Coach Eddie Conley and his staff have made some adjustments that really helped a lot,” praised Burzawa. “That staff did a good job of figuring out who we are and what we need to do defensively. “There’s a lot of football left. We’ve just got to get better.”
Editor’s note: This story has updated to correct the spelling of Damarion Timberlake’s first name.