When Glenbrook South marched 80 yards for a touchdown on its first possession Friday night in Glenview, the Titans might have anticipated an easy tuneup for the Illinois High School Association state football playoffs against an Evanston team that was simply playing out the string.
But the Wildkits didn’t oblige. They didn’t stop battling right to the final whistle of the 2022 season.
The playoff-bound Titans needed a strong second half effort to score a 35-19 Central Suburban League South division victory in the regular season finale for both teams. Glenbrook South improved to 8-1 on the year and will find out Saturday night who they’ll play in the first round of the postseason playoffs.
Evanston finished 3-6 and will miss out on the Class 8A playoffs for the first time since 2019. A string of close losses in September left the Wildkits with the formidable task of having to beat both Maine South and Glenbrook South – who finished 1-2 in league play – in the final two weeks of the season just to qualify.
The fact that his squad wasn’t able to achieve that daunting task didn’t diminish their effort in the eyes of ETHS head coach Mike Burzawa.
Glenbrook South piled up 261 yards rushing and added 154 passing and never trailed in the game. But the hosts only led 14-6 at halftime and 21-13 after three quarters and had to use their regulars to secure the win in the fourth period.
Evanston senior quarterback Dylan Groff threw a pair of touchdown passes and ran for another score. The Wildkits, however, mustered only 86 yards rushing and had difficulty moving the chains against the Titan defense.
Evanston suffered through slow starts in both halves of the game, yet was resilient enough to threaten to tie Glenbrook South when a third quarter drive stalled in the red zone.
The second half
The Kits opened the second half with the ball on their own 31 following an 18-yard kickoff return by Boaz Lieberman. Then they promptly moved backward.
A holding penalty and back-to-back quarterback sacks eventually led to a punt from their own 4, and Glenbrook South took advantage of the short field to push the lead to 21-6 on a 2-yard run by Charlie Gottfred (126 yards on 20 carries).
Groff, however, dialed up an immediate response when he chucked a 65-yard touchdown bomb to Preston Brown on Evanston’s next play from scrimmage.
A 34-yard burst by junior running back Damarion Timberlake following a Glenbrook South punt moved the ball to the opposing team’s 9-yard line late in the third quarter. Two more runs by Timberlake, however, netted just 3 yards, and a third down pass from Groff intended for Myles Kye on a slant pattern fell incomplete.
“That was an unfortunate start to the second half,” said Burzawa. “But we got a quick score and answered right back. Then when we had the chance to tie, I took the field goal [attempt] because we still had a ton of time left in the game.”
Burzawa opted to try a field goal with 4 minutes still left in the quarter. But after Evan Siegel missed the boot, the Titans responded with another 80-yard scoring drive to put the game out of reach as Charlie Gottfred (126 yards on 20 carries) scored on a 2-yard run, his second TD of the contest.
Groff also threw a 25-yard touchdown pass to Brown with just 20 seconds remaining in the first half at the end of an 89-yard march. He finished with 10 completions in 22 attempts, with 2 interceptions and 2 touchdowns, in the final start of his career.
Groff was one of just a handful of seniors who had any varsity experience at all coming into the campaign, but Burzawa and company never used that as an excuse, even when the close losses piled up on them.
“We made some mistakes, we had some growing pains,” Burzawa said. “In terms of experience, not many of them had it under the Friday night lights. But they had the toughness and the ability to move forward when things got difficult and we battled every team we played.
“It was a very difficult season emotionally – but there was no quit in them. They fought hard all year, and they’re wonderful kids. I was truly blessed to be around them every day.”