Football loses first playoff game after suspenseful season

Coming off a midseason four-game winning streak, ETHS football looked to continue its success throughout the end of the season and postseason. In their last few games, the Wildkits faced some steep competition, including Maine South, Glenbrook South and Plainfield North—their opponent in the first round of the IHSA Class 8A playoffs on Oct. 30. Expectations were high for the varsity squad, and, despite losing to Plainfield North in that playoff contest, the team generally met those expectations in the season’s final bout.

“I think we overall had a pretty good season, we beat New Trier for the first time in a decade and also recorded the best conference record in a decade as well,” said quarterback Dylan Groff. “We got back to the playoffs, which we haven’t done since 2018, so I think overall we had a good season and I think we’re all proud of the team we had become.

In its contest against Plainfield North, ETHS opted to give junior Hank Liss, who had only played quarterback in a handful of plays all season, the start. Early on, this change proved effective; Liss tossed a 25-yard touchdown pass to senior wideout Kamau Ransom on just Evanston’s second possession of the game. After letting up two Plainfield touchdowns, and with the score at 14-7, the Wildkits later scored off a 25-yard run by senior running back Giovanni Pryor, which set the score at 14-13. Shortly after, the Wildkits gave up another touchdown, and then a field goal. These plays pushed the score to 23-13 by the end of the third quarter. At the start of the fourth, the Wildkits last ditch effort culminated in an interception by junior free safety Mac Mettee. However, despite making multiple pushes up the field, the Wildkits just couldn’t convert. The final score stood exactly where it was going into the fourth.

A week prior, in its final regular season game on Oct. 22, ETHS beat Glenbrook South by a score of 35-14, and qualified the team for the playoffs. With the season on the line, the Kits showcased their full potential and revealed just how much growth they had made on both sides of the ball since the season’s start.

That day, Evanston’s first points came on a whopping 75-yard touchdown pass from Groff to senior wideout and cornerback Mark Cannon Jr., giving the team an early 7-0 lead. Groff then followed that up with a 26-yard touchdown pass to Ransom. With the score at 14-0, the Wildkits continued their dominating execution as senior strong safety Kaiden Scrim recovered a GBS fumble. Still in the first, the Wildkits scored again off a two-yard touchdown run by senior running back Giovanni Pryor, and ended the quarter with a 21-0 lead.

 In the second, Groff made yet another touchdown pass to Ransom, this one being a 34-yarder. After the Spartans snuck in their first touchdown in the fourth, the Wildkits came right back with a 59-yard touchdown run by Pryor, which ultimately proved to be the final blow. This was a defining victory for the Wildkits, and despite their future playoff loss, sent them into the postseason with high energy.

Yet, a week earlier, the team came close to its largest victory in years—over perennial powerhouse Maine South. At their Oct. 15 competition, the Wildkits took their first loss since Sept. 10, 31-23. ETHS started the game off strong with Cannon Jr. logging an interception in the first five minutes. The Wildkits followed that up quickly, with a 73-yard touchdown pass from Groff to, you guessed it, Ransom.

With the score even at 7-7, the Wildkits added onto their defensive stat line with a safety sack, taking the lead 9-7. After pushing its way to the goal line, the orange and blue scored again off a three-yard pass, once more from Groff to Ransom. Coming out of halftime with a 16-14 lead, Cannon Jr. returned a kickoff for a touchdown, and gave the Wildkits a 23-14 lead. Though they had the advantage at the half, from there on out, the Wildkits’ offense went cold, and their defense relaxed; multiple passes for touchdowns were let up as Maine South crept its way back into the game, and ended up carving out the win. 

Although the season ended with a disappointing loss, the Wildkits challenged every opponent down the stretch. Considering that there has not been a full football season in nearly two years, the fact that the team flipped its regular season record to 6-3 from 3-6 in 2019 is made even more impressive. 

I feel like the season was kind of a roller coaster, not really having an offseason was kind of weird and didn’t really give some guys who needed it [time] to develop,” Groff said.

The Kits ended the season with a final record of 6-4. With a good amount of the team’s starters being seniors this year, the squad will have a lot of new faces next season, and possibly even some new standout players. Even if it wasn’t the ideal outcome in the final game of the season, this year’s team will still reminisce on its many successes.