The path won’t get any easier for Evanston’s football team as the Wildkits seek their first playoff victory since 2003.
The Wildkits drew the No. 15 seed in their half of the Class 8A playoff bracket according to pairings released by the Illinois High School Association late Saturday night. They’ll face a challenge on the road against No. 2 seed Barrington at 6 p.m. next Saturday.
Back-to-back losses to Maine South and New Trier in their final two regular season games dimmed the playoff picture for head coach Mike Burzawa and his staff, who have guided Evanston to four straight postseason berths. The drop in the seedings left the Kits with a tougher first round matchup than was anticipated, and now they have to make the best of it.
First-round playoff losses to Fremd in 2010, and to Loyola in 2011 and 2012, have left the program hungry to take the next step. And Burzawa is confident his team can bounce back, even though they’ll face a formidable Barrington team that posted an 8-1 record and tied Schaumburg for the Mid-Suburban League West championship.
“We’re excited to get back to the postseason again. Football is the one sport where you have to earn your way into the playoffs, and we know it will be a heckuva challenge for us,” Burzawa said.
“It was a disappointing way for us to end the season. We didn’t produce the way we wanted to on offense in Week 8 and Week 9, and it is what it is. We knew we’d end up on the road, with the way the brackets go, and now we want to fight our way back and get another home game (in the second round of the playoffs). This is an exciting time of year, and this is what it’s all about. This is the time of year when anything can happen.”
Evanston was one of five Central Suburban League South division teams to reach the postseason, along with No. 5 seed Maine South, No. 7 Glenbrook South, No. 12 Niles West and No. 14 New Trier. If the Wildkits can pull off a first-round upset on Saturday, they’d meet the Glenbrook South-Warren winner in the second round.
Barrington missed out on postseason play last year, but bounced back in a big way this season behind quarterback Daniel Kubiuk, wide receiver Scotty Miller and 6-foot-4, 230-pound defensive tackle Colin Castagna. After bowing to Schaumburg 33-21 in Week 5, the Broncos reeled off consecutive victories over Conant (32-20), Palatine (27-0) and Hoffman Estates (41-0) and enter the postseason on a roll.
ETHS will try to regroup on offense and will be bolstered by the addition of 14 sophomores to the playoff roster. That’s the core of a team that finished 8-1, the best performance by a sophomore squad in decades, and there are playmakers who could make an impact even though Burzawa typically takes advantage of the potential for an extra week of practice for the younger players and doesn’t expect much in the way of contributions, except on special teams.
There are three sophs --- quarterback/defensive back Immanuel Woodberry, running back Travion Banks and end Naquan Jones --- who could have played at the varsity level from the start of the season, but the ETHS coaching staff opted to keep that group intact as a unit.
“A lot of them came with us in the summer when we went to the camp at Illinois Wesleyan, and hopefully they can help us out this week,” Burzawa said. “Normally we move them up for the playoffs just to get some experience, because the game at the varsity level is a lot faster.”