There were times Friday night that it looked like Jamarhe Bowen was auditioning for a spot on “Dancing With The Stars” against the Niles West football team.
He was actually trying to land the role as Evanston’s lead running back — next year.
The 6-foot, 180-pound junior gave Evanston fans a glimpse into the future with a career-best performance as the Wildkits overwhelmed winless Niles West by a 42-6 margin in Skokie.
Bowen piled up 165 yards rushing — more than his entire season total in the previous 7 games — on 14 attempts and had touchdown runs of 19 and 14 yards for the winners, who improved to 3-5 overall and 2-2 in Central Suburban League South division play.
Head coach Mike Burzawa’s decision to rest senior running back Quadre Nicholson this week didn’t keep the Kits from amassing a season-high 306 yards rushing against the defenseless Wolves (0-8). And even though Burzawa and his staff aren’t looking past this year, with a date against Glenbrook South to come in the regular season finale, the last two weeks will give both Bowen and classmate Tyron Inniss (9 carries for 64 yards, 1 TD) more opportunities to make a good impression.
Evanston wasn’t able to run the football effectively when Nicholson was sidelined by injuries to start the season, one reason ETHS stumbled to a 1-3 start. But both Bowen and Innis have made strides since then while adjusting to varsity football.
Bowen left Wolves’ defenders grasping at nothing but air on a chilly night in Skokie, weaving his way past them with a variety of spin moves. His effort was so impressive that Innis responded to the challenge — after his blocking paved the way for several long Bowen bursts — by dragging 3 defenders at least 7 yards into the end zone for Evanston’s last touchdown of the night.
Innis is only listed at 5-7, 175 pounds, on a roster that doesn’t measure his determination when he has the football.
“Every solid football team has to have two good backs,” said Burzawa. “Both Jamarhe and Tyron are getting better week by week. I think they’re getting more comfortable understanding the offense now. Bowen showed great vision and toughness tonight, and Inniss did a heckuva job blocking. We were down several guys tonight (injuries, illness, eligibility issues) but by the third quarter we were able to execute a lot better.”
“It felt good to finally score, and especially to get our team a W,” Bowen said. “We didn’t make the playoffs but we still have something to play for — pride. I’m taking all of this as a learning experience for me for next year. We’ll have our offensive line back and we’ll get a fresh start as a team next year.
“I didn’t expect to play this much this year. I’m just playing the way I always play. This whole year has really been a learning experience for me.”
Touchdown runs by Jeremiah Lasley (9 yards) and quarterback Sean Cruz (22 yards) staked the visitors to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter. West closed the gap on a 33-yard touchdown pass from sophomore quarterback Jack Leons to John Gunartt in the second quarter, as Leons only connected on 5-of-17 passes for 52 yards. He was sacked twice and was picked off once, by Mark Canon Jr.
Inspired running by Bowen countered that West score as the visitors marched 66 yards in 8 plays. The junior slashed his way into the end zone from 19 yards to boost the lead to 21-6 at the intermission.
An 18-yard kickoff return by Darius Hunt set up the next ETHS score, a 14-yard dash by Bowen to open the second half. A 65-yard touchdown pass from Cruz to his brother, DeVaughn Bell, and Inniss’ TD accounted for the final score.
Evanston’s defense limited the losers to just 16 yards rushing with a new-look that included Aidan McMahon in the middle. On offense, senior Nyles Williams replaced the injured Zach Myers and much of Evanston’s yardage on the ground came behind the senior who was making his first start.
“Nyles stepped in at left tackle and did a very good job for us,” Burzawa praised. “McMahon did the same thing for us on the defensive line. It was great to see those two seniors step up like that when the team really needed them.”