Previewing ETHS’ first home postseason game in seven years

Eli Cohen and Hailey Fine

What you need to know for ETHS football’s first home playoff game in seven years

On Friday Oct. 26, the No. 10 seed Evanston will host the No. 23 seed Edwardsville, a 6-3 team that resides just outside of St. Louis. Edwardsville (EHS), looks to repeat last year’s postseason run where they beat 7-seed Huntley, and went on to the state semi-finals. While EHS had multiple playoff wins last season, ETHS lost to Maine South 58-7 in the first round. Despite less previous success, this year’s team is more experienced and is the first seven-win team since 1998, making the Kits optimistic for the game on Friday.

Edwardsville’s offense has shredded their opponents defense this season. Currently holding a five game win streak, the Tigers have average over 40 points per game on the season. Despite a slow start of 1-3, EHS caught fire and looks to carry their five game win streak into Friday’s game.

While Edwardsville’s offense looks frightening, here’s the catch; In games where Edwardsville faced a team with a winning record this season, they were 2-3. In games they played a team with a 7-2 record like Evanston, they’re 1-2. Additionally, they are winless when they played a team with a winning record on the road. Evanston’s lowest scoring game this season was their loss to New Trier, where they scored 13 points. When Edwardsville allowed 13 or more points to a team with a winning record, they had no wins and three losses.

What are the keys for Evanston to win this game?

  1. Contain Kendall Abdur-Rahman, Edwardsville QB, Notre Dame commit

ETHS’ biggest task is stopping Edwardsville quarterback, and Notre Dame commit, Kendall Abdur-Rahman. Abdur-Rahman is one of the most athletic players the Kits’ defense has ever faced.

Despite playing quarterback, Abdur-Rahman has committed to Notre Dame at the “athlete” position, essentially meaning he doesn’t have a set position for his college career. Despite Abdur-Rahman being a positionless player, the Fighting Irish are impressed with his athleticism enough to give him a full-ride to play football for one of the country’s powerhouse programs.

Abdur-Rahman’s passing threat may not be anymore dangerous than those of other quarterbacks in the CSL South but his tendency to run the ball often gives the Tigers big yards and explosive plays. Abdur-Rahman is in some ways the basis of their whole offense therefore preventing him from running the ball will be crucial for Evanston’s defense to shut down the Edwardsville offense.

“We definitely have made adjustments alignment wise up front. And for us as linebackers, we made a lot of alignments to keep him in between the tackles,” captain linebacker Kameron Kull said. “I think we have a really good plan to stop him from running.”

Limiting Abdur-Rahman’s run game could be the difference between a shutout and a repeat of last season’s playoff game, where Maine South put up 58 points on the hibernating Kits defense.

“We weren’t very cohesive and we didn’t necessarily have that kind of cockiness. We have a lot more experience, and more guys that’ve been playing for three years, and starting for two,” Kull said.

  1. Get the ground game rolling

Establishing the run game is important to control the clock and gain yards.

“It’ll be extremely important to have the advantage on both the run and pass game,”  junior Quadre Nicholson said. “It’ll leave us unpredictable and the opponent will not be ready for what we have prepared.”

Nicholson, the Kits’ star running back, sat out last week’s game in order to rest for the playoffs. The offensive line has also been preparing for the upcoming game. They are a key factor to running the game because they are the ones that block for Nicholson and allow him to do his job correctly.

“On the field, they build a hole for me which allows me to gain great yardage, off the field we are like brothers,” Nicholson explained.

If Nicholson and the Kits’ offense can establish a strong run game to move the chains and control the pace, look for their dynamic offense to have success against the Tigers’ defense.

  1. Holding onto the ball

As Evanston looks to contain Abdur-Rahman and control the game on the ground, it’s important for the senior Ben Tarpey-led offense to hold onto the ball. Tarpey’s first season starting at the varsity level has been impressive, throwing for nearly 2,000 yards and 20 touchdowns. In most games, the aerial attack has been firing on all cylinders, but in back-to-back losses to Maine South and New Trier, offensive struggles were the cause of three intercepted passes, two of which were returned for touchdowns.

“We’ve reflected on big games we’ve played in like Barrington, New Trier and Maine South, and something that I’ve realized is that taking care of the ball is a huge thing for us,” Tarpey said. “In the Barrington game, we took care of the ball and it was one of our best offensive performances, so I feel like if our offense takes care of the ball well, no fumbles, no interceptions, we’ll be able to put up a lot of points and win this game.”

Tarpey poses tremendous confidence in the Kits as they head into the game with what they believe is a solid strategy.

“They’ve got a pretty solid defense, but there’s definitely some things we’ve seen that we plan to exploit on Friday,” Tarpey said.

  1.  Limit penalties

Because of Edwardsville’s strong offense, it’s important that the team reduces the amount of penalties during the game. Less penalties means that Evanston will be giving away less free yards to Edwardsville, therefore making it harder for them to score.

“We’ve got to be more disciplined and we’ve got to clean up the penalties,” coach Mike Burzawa said. “It’s something we’re working on and we’ve got to get a lot better at it because that’s what’s cost us a few football games this year.”

The team has added more film study to the practice plan in order to see the mistakes made and learn from them. Some players watch an average of four to six hours of film a week. By doing this, they can be better prepared to prevent penalties and other mistakes from happening in the upcoming games. Despite the game’s natural aggressive nature, it is crucial to stay disciplined. Giving the talented Edwardsville offense free chances to gain yards could be a critical blow for Evanston Friday night.

Regardless of the outcome, ETHS had a great season but this team feels there is still work to be done. If the Kits can stay focused on what we believe are the four keys to the game, they should come out with a win. The game is Friday Oct. 26 at 7 p.m. It will be a packed game at Lazier Field as the Kits play in their biggest game of the year.