Written by Dennis Mahoney.
With big games coming up against Maine South and New Trier over the next two weeks, at least Evanston’s football team won’t have to deal with any additional drama when it comes to the Illinois High School Association state playoffs.
The Wildkits became playoff eligible by notching their fifth win of the season Friday night at Lazier Field, dominating Waukegan on both sides of the ball in the second half of a 27-6 Central Suburban League South division victory.
Chris Little threw a pair of touchdown passes to Sam Bordo, and Evanston’s defense sacked Waukegan quarterback Melvin Bobo six times in the second half as the Kits improved to 5-2 overall and 2-1 in league play. Waukegan fell to 2-5 and 0-3, respectively.
The magic number is five for any playoff hopeful and five wins almost guarantees that a school will earn a postseason berth, although strength of schedule and the IHSA point system is also a big factor.
“The past two years we’ve had to wait until Week 9 (last week of the regular season) to get that fifth win, so it’s nice to get it tonight,” said Evanston head coach Mike Burzawa. “Waukegan always plays us tough and they’ve been the more physical team the past three times we’ve played them, so tonight we wanted to be the more physical team. And I think we were.
“We did a good job of containing their quarterback (Bobo) even though he made a couple of plays over the top against us. This was a big win, and from now on they just keep getting bigger. Good teams are teams that keep getting stronger.”
Evanston’s more physical approach featured a new blocking back --- Zach Smith --- wearing a new number (44) --- in the red zone. Smith switched from his usual No. 55 to No. 44 to become an eligible player on offense while also excelling at his linebacker slot with 6 solo tackles and 3 assists, including a quarterback sack.
Smith helped the Wildkits pile up 111 yards rushing to go with Little’s passing (15-of-21 for 216 yards and two TDs). Friday marked the third time this season that Little has surpassed the 200-yard mark in a game, and his scoring passes to Bordo covered 63 and 35 yards.
“I love contact, whether it’s on offense or defense,” said Smith, who also chalked up an 11-yard reception as part of a busy night for the senior. “I asked the coaches last year if they’d let me play offense on the goal line, at least, but they wanted me to concentrate on playing linebacker. I love to block --- that’s my favorite thing --- and I guess I just love the contact.
“Bobo is one of the best scrambling quarterbacks we’ve faced, but we got it together in the second half and we shut him down. We still have to focus on the job ahead, though, and that’s to get that sixth win to guarantee we’ll be in the playoffs.”
“When we broke down our red zone offense after the first six games, we just decided that we wanted to make some changes,” Burzawa explained. “We need to be an offense that can run the ball and pass the ball. With Zach as an H-back, I thought we ran the ball better with him in there. We were much more sound tonight in the red zone.”
Evanston settled for a 13-6 halftime advantage thanks to a 12-yard touchdown run by Julian Bohannon Smith and Little’s 63-yard bomb to Bordo that traveled an impressive 70 yards in the air. In the second half, the ETHS defense took over and limited the Bulldogs to just two first downs.
Bobo connected with Jaleel Darr-Duffie for a 30-yard scoring strike in the first half, but finished with just 9 completions in 22 attempts for 134 yards. Those six sacks left him with an overall minus 18 yards on the ground on 18 carries.
Evanston marched 65 yards on 8 plays for a third quarter score, a TD that was set up when Little scrambled to his right and hooked up with Xavier Hilliard for a 41-yard completion. Michael Pope eventually tallied on a 1-yard run.
In the fourth quarter, a Nate Brown punt pinned Waukegan deep in their own territory and the Bulldogs, in turn, had to punt from their own end zone. Two plays later, Little found Bordo streaking down the left sideline for a touchdown toss.