Homecoming weekend wasn’t the only cause for celebration for Evanston’s football team Saturday.
The Wildkits welcomed back star running back Quadre Nicholson off the injured list and crushed Glenbrook North 49-10 in the Central Suburban League South division opener, ending a 3-game losing skid in the process.
Nicholson, who missed the first half of the season with foot and hip injuries, made his 2019 debut and carried 13 times for 102 yards, including touchdown runs of 5 and 39 yards.
Sophomore quarterback Sean Cruz shook off a pair of early interceptions and threw two touchdown passes, and Evanston’s defense recorded 5 quarterback sacks and played inspired football behind senior defensive tackle Zach Myers as the Kits improved to 2-3 on the season.
The contest took two days to complete, after the game was suspended at halftime due to bad weather Friday night. Evanston led 14-3 at the intermission, then smacked the Spartans with four scores in the third quarter to turn the game into a rout.
Glenbrook North, which entered the week as the only CSL South team to post a winning record in the non-conference portion of the schedule, mustered just 98 yards rushing and fell to 3-2. It was the first CSL South game ever for the Spartans, who moved over from the North division this fall.
The aura of doubt surrounding the program without Nicholson in the lineup — and with newcomers still adjusting to varsity football — seemed to dissipate with the senior standout’s return.
His injury situation caused several Division I colleges to lose interest in recruiting the 6-foot, 170-pound running back before he committed to Miami of Ohio earlier in September. But Nicholson showed he’s still got plenty of juice and power left in his debut against GBN.
“It was good to see Quadre back running the football,” said Evanston head coach Mike Burzawa. “His return makes a big difference for us. He’s a captain and we need that leadership. He worked really hard to get healthy again and I think it was a solid return for him today.
“You can be a leader off the field when the coaches aren’t around, but leadership happens on the field and in the huddle, too. After all, our offense has been built around him the past couple of years.
“The kids were really locked in this weekend. You could they were focused and that they were ready to play. They were hungry. We’ve experienced every kind of loss the past 3 weeks and we didn’t play near our ability, and we didn’t finish, last week against Fremd. Today we came out with the mentality that we had to finish.”
Nicholson admitted that his health issues, which began last spring during the outdoor track season, left him uncertain as to just what his athletic future would bring.
“No doctor ever told me this, but I thought I might have to sit out the whole season and just hope I’d be ready for college,” Nicholson said. “It seemed like every time I stepped onto the field I’d get hurt. I just prayed and prayed some more that I could come back.
“Seeing my team down 1-3 like that this year, I really felt like my leadership just wasn’t good enough. I’ve been working with everyone on the team, talking to them and trying to make sure the defense got their swag back.
“Now I feel like we’re back.”
No one on the Spartan sideline would disagree. The tide actually turned on Friday night when the visitors couldn’t convert two early ETHS turnovers by Cruz into any more than 3 points.
DeVaughn Bell, who later returned an interception 70 yards for a touchdown, pulled off the defensive play of the game — ironically, on a play where he was beaten for a 45-yard gain by North receiver Andrew Koulegeorge.
Bell chased him down, then ripped the ball away from Koulegeorge and recovered the fumble at the ETHS 14 on the first play of the second quarter.
Evanston’s response? On the next play, Peter Braithwaite grabbed an intermediate range pass from Cruz for an 86-yard catch-and-run touchdown that put the Wildkits ahead to stay.
“To me, that was the play of the day because it was a 14-point swing,” Burzawa praised. “That play was all about grit, toughness and perseverance. Instead of us going down 10-0, it’s 7-3 and that’s a big swing in our favor.”
Cruz (8-of-13 passing for 245 yards) launched a 78-yard scoring strike to Jeremiah Lasley on Evanston‘s next possession. Lightning strikes like that at halftime led to a halt in the action until Saturday.
When play resumed Saturday, the charged-up hosts kept the pressure on GBN. Myers (team-best 7 solo tackles, 2 assists) recorded a quarterback sack along with teammates Connor Groff, Sebastian Ball, Judel Vilus, and Demetrius Barnett.
With a north breeze in GBN’s face, Barnett returned an underthrown pass by GBN junior Dylan Buckner (17-of-28 for 199 yards) for a pick six. Nicholson added a pair of scoring runs at the end of short scoring drives, and junior Tyron Inniss raced 16 yards for a score before the period ended.
The icing on the cake for the winners came in the fourth quarter when 290-pound defensive tackle Khiyran Monroe stood up a Spartan running back, grabbed the ball out of his hands and rumbled 50 yards for the final TD.