Two-quarters away from ending two decades of Maine South football domination in their head-to-head rivalry, Evanston Township High School failed to seal the deal on Friday night in Park Ridge.
The Wildkits found that playing the Hawks off for half a game didn’t count – a rare success for many past ETHS teams – as the guests went broke in the second half of a 31:23 loss.
Instead of taking their first win against South since 1999 and taking at least part of the Central Suburban League South crown, the kits had to watch another championship celebration for the hosts (7-1, 4-0) on their senior night.
Leading at halftime at 23-14, Evanston (5-3 total, 3-1 CSL South) couldn’t take any stops in defense and only had five first downs 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 but see the glass as “half” empty.
“We just didn’t do anything in the second half – offensive, defensive or special teams,” said Burzawa. “We didn’t fight well enough. We need 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 hell of a good 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 just about playing well for half an hour. Every team in the [Illinois High School Association] State Playoffs are a good football team, and to win and advance you have to play all four quarters against everyone. “
Friday’s loss was crucial for the Wildkits in terms of post-season play, with an appointment against Glenbrook South – already another playoff qualifier – next Friday at the end of the regular season. The difference between a 5-4 final score and a 6-3 (or 7-2) is significant when it comes to first-round playoff matches.
Evanston enjoyed a half-time advantage thanks to a remarkable series of plays, with each team scoring a touchdown in the final 17 seconds before break.
In a game where he was thrown on the lawn – and no one wearing a striped shirt apparently saw anything wrong with it – Evanston receiver Mark Canon Jr. deflected a pass straight into the arms of South defender Frank Bartell, of 47 yards for a. raced points to reduce the deficit to 16-14.
It didn’t take long for Canon to pay off. He took the next nudge 95 yards to emerge in one dazzling motion from a maze of wannabe hawk-tackers, turned left to free himself, and walked the distance as the clock ran out.
A yellow flag falling on the 30 yard line left Wildkit fans in five minutes of agony while referees debated the call. They raised the flag, much to the dismay of South head coach Dave Insertra, who called for consecutive time outs after the touchdown attempt to complain to the officials.
The wild kits also counted two TD passes from Dylan Groff to Kamau Ransom covering 73 and 3 yards and added a security when Keefe was released in the end zone after a Hawks goal-line score in the second quarter.
Ransom has now caught nine TD passes in the season. Groff completed 11 of 22 passes for 136 yards with this lone interception and also contributed 17 times for a game-high 146 yards for the jerseys.
Maine South relied on the one-two punch from Keefe and Mike Sajenko. The senior QB completed 16 of 23 passes (1 interception, from Canon) for 165 yards and stormed 16 times for an additional 69 yards. Sajenko did most of his damage in the second half, ending up with 22 carries for 109 yards.