After finishing the regular season with a record of 7-2, the Evanston Township High School football team looked to extend its strong season when they took on Edwardsville in the first round of the IHSA Class 8A playoffs.
But unfortunately, the Wildkits came up short, as they fell by a score of 44-27 at Lazier Field in Evanston. In that game, Edwardsville struck first as they connected on a field goal attempt with six minutes remaining in the first quarter. The visiting Tigers then extended the lead to 10-0 when they intercepted Kits quarterback Ben Tarpey’s pass and returned it for a touchdown with 4:41 remaining in the quarter.
From there, the Tigers made it a 17-0 game with a touchdown with 8:46 remaining in the second quarter. That score capped a 36-yard drive, which was set up when the visitors recovered a quarterback fumble. That was the second of five total turnovers committed by the Kits in the game.
But the Kits refused to give up, as they made it a 17-7 game thanks to a one-yard touchdown run by Quadre Nicholson with 3:05 remaining in the second quarter. On the ensuing possession, the Kits recovered a Tiger fumble on the 45-yard line and were in position to make it a 17-10 game, but unfortunately kicker Caleb Hart’s 37-yard attempt sailed just outside the left goalpost in the final seconds of the half, keeping the score 17-7.
The Tigers then extended their lead to 37-14 over the course of the third quarter and early in the fourth, capped by a 77-yard touchdown run by quarterback Kendall Abdur-Rahman with 11:04 remaining in the game.
But once again, the Kits refused to quit, as Ben found Michael Axelrood for a 15-yard touchdown pass on their ensuing possession to make it 37-21 with 3:09 remaining. Then, after recovering the onside kick, the Kits got to within 37-27 when Ben found Michael again, this time for an eight-yard score with 1:54 remaining. On the ensuing kickoff, the Kits attempted another onside kick, but unfortunately, this attempt was recovered by Edwardsville, which all but wrapped up the contest. The Kits got the ball back in the final minute, but a pass by Ben was intercepted and taken in for a touchdown, which made the final score 44-27. With the defeat, the Kits finish with a record of 7-3 overall. The seven victories are the most the team has had since the 2003 season.
Regarding his team’s performance against Edwardsville, head coach Mike Burzawa said, “We got off to an uncharacteristic start. We did not come out and execute early on. We had a few turnovers and we were playing catch up the rest of the way. It was a 17-0 game and we battled back 17-7 and had a field goal [attempt] but Caleb gave a great effort, but just missed it to try and get it to a one-score game before halftime,” the Coach explained. “Offensively, we got into a rhythm at times, but we were not able to run the ball. If you just have to throw the ball, it is difficult. So we were not able to run the ball successfully, and that put a lot on Ben and our pass game.”
The Coach continued, “It was a disappointing loss, we certainly did not plan on turning in our gear on Monday. But give Edwardsville credit, they came in here, they are a physically strong football team and they came out ready to go right off the bus. But I could not be more proud of the senior class. We had 40-plus seniors that did a heck of a job, had a team-first attitude, they did a lot of great things this year, they did a lot of great things in their career and they really made coaching fun for me because they were so tight-knit, and they worked so hard.”
Leading the offensive attack for the Kits against Edwardsville was Ben, who threw for 209 yards and two touchdowns, both to Michael. Quadre also chipped in a pair of touchdowns in the contest. In throwing for 209 yards, Ben became the first quarterback in school history to pass for more than 2,000 yards in a single season, as he threw for a total of 2,027, which broke Marcus White’s record of 1,982 yards set in 1994.
“He had a tremendous career,” said Coach Burzawa regarding his quarterback. “We did not know where we were going to be at the quarterback position coming into the season. We thought Ben was going to be a play-action guy. He and assistant coach Ryan Healy put in hours upon hours of work every weekend and the way he developed was unbelievable.”
The Kits entered the IHSA Class 8A playoffs as the No. 10 seed after going 7-2 in the regular season, which earned them a home game at Lazier Field in Evanston. Regarding that accomplishment, Coach Burzawa said, “That was great. We were not really set on that, [as] we wanted to make a run in the postseason. So obviously that kind of stuff, we will reflect on as time goes by, but right now, it was nice to get a home game. But at the end of the day we lost 44-27.”