One takeaway from the first two weeks of the high school football season is that Evanston’s defense is much improved this year when it comes to takeaways. The Wildkits intercepted four passes Friday night in a 38-12 victory over Chicago Taft at Lazier Field and improved to 2-0 on the season.

That’s the  most picks the Kits have racked up in a single game since head coach Mike Burzawa took over the program back in 2008, and the number is even more significant when you consider that ETHS only intercepted a TOTAL of 3 passes in 10 games last season.

Friday night, safety Mike Axelrood grabbed a pair of interceptions while cornerback Malik Ross and linebacker Charlie Gruner added one apiece for the winners.

Juniors Malik Ross and Cameron Powell each contributed a pair of rushing touchdowns to spark the offense, which totaled 399 yards overall and built a 38-0 lead over the first three quarters before the reserves took over for the hosts on both sides of the ball.

“Taft had been moving the ball on us, so those turnovers were huge tonight,” Burzawa acknowledged. “And we were able to convert some of those turnovers into points.”

Evanston’s defensive personnel packages are featuring a different look than in the past couple of seasons, according to defensive coordinator Eddie Conley. And a big reason for that is improved team speed.

“Last year we ran a 2-read to give both of our safeties a chance to be in position to handle the other team’s running game, but sometimes we left some holes out there because we weren’t balanced,” Conley pointed out. “Now in our 3-3 stack, we don’t have to ask the linebackers to cover slot receivers. Now we have more guys who can cover the slot. Basically we’ve replaced a linebacker (type) with a defensive back in our coverage.

“It’s a minor change, but it gives us more options on defense and opens up opportunities for blitzes because now we have better balance. Now, if our defensive line can step up and put more pressure  on the quarterback, we’ll be hard for anyone to handle.”

The ETHS defense limited Taft quarterback Diego Gonzalez to 9 completions in 22 tries, with 3 interceptions, for 115 yards. Backup Dexter Stigall completed his only attempt to Axelrood, and the junior standout’s theft set up a 45-yard drive that resulted in a 39-yard field goal by Charlie Lindland as time expired in the first half.

The visiting Eagles (0-2 overall) made things easier for the Evanston offense by refusing to punt after their opening possession. The losers did convert one of four fourth down plays, hardly enough to match the hosts’ firepower.

Evanston tallied on a 4-yard run by Ross, a 20-yard TD pass from Drew Dawkins (14-for-20 for 148 yards) to Axelrood, and a 1-yard plunge by Powell in the first half to go with Lindland’s field goal. The winners carried that momentum over to the second half with a 48-yard opening drive that culminated with a 10-yard scoring burst by Ross, his sixth TD of the young season.

Powell, who led all rushers with 93 yards on 14 carries, finished off the scoring late in the third quarter with a 13-yard run.

Dennis Mahoney is sports information director for ETHS.

Dennis Mahoney is sports information director for Evanston Township High School.

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