By Don Cogger
Herald Sports Editor
Looking to spoil Jackson’s Homecoming festivities, the Evanston High School football team battled back from a 20-0 second-half deficit with 27 unanswered points, taking the stunned Broncs to overtime before falling 34-33 in a double-OT classic.
“The kids played hard – they work hard, they play hard, now we just have to get to where we get in the win column,” said EHS head coach Jim Burton.
In what quickly became a Tale of Two Halves, Jackson owned the first two quarters of play, while the Red Devils stumbled out of the blocks. On the strength of a 5-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Owen Janssen to Jack Jenkins, and a pair of Braden Hills field goals, the Broncs held a 13-0 lead at the break; Evanston was moving the ball well, though a pair of untimely interceptions negated any first-half threat.
“We started moving the ball well in the second quarter,” Burton explained. “Our defense does what they do – they’re solid, they’re making tackles, they’re making plays. In the second half, we found some openings, and started to exploit them. The kids just kept chipping away. They don’t give up, that’s what these kids do, they roll with the punches. We just need to do it a little sooner, and realize we can’t spot people 20-plus points before we decide it’s time to go.”
The second half got off to an inauspicious start for the Red Devils, as a Morrow fumble on Evanston’s opening drive was returned 54 yards for a touchdown, giving the Broncs a 20-0 lead. Those would be the last points Jackson would score until overtime, as the Red Devils put together three impressive scoring drives that had the Broncs on their heels and their fans scratching their heads.
“Jackson wanted to pack it in – traditionally, we’re a flex formation, which is kind of tight, and when we did that, they would drop eight, nine, 10 players in the box,” Burton said. “We had to spread out a bit. We still ran option out of it – and it worked – it’s just a matter of making sure we have the right kids in the right places, and exploiting matchups.”
Given a short field following an excessive celebration penalty after the Broncs’ last touchdown, the Red Devils made the most of the opportunity. A couple of nice runs by Brady Roberts – coupled with a personal foul penalty on Jackson – had Evanston inside the Red Zone for the first time in the game, with Morrow scoring on a 1-yard plunge a few plays later to get the Red Devils on the board.
Roberts added a touchdown of his own at the start of the fourth quarter, a 1-yard run to make it 20-12; Dylan Liechty’s extra point made it 20-13, and the Red Devils were back in business. A strong defensive stand on Jackson’s next possession gave Evanston the ball back with just over six minutes left in regulation, though they were backed up on their own 13-yard line.
Showing poise one might not expect from a first-year starter under center, Morrow – his two first-half interceptions long forgotten – engineered an 87-yard drive, highlighted by punishing runs from Roberts and a 31-yard strike from Morrow to Karter Randall, who made a leaping catch on a busted play that had the Red Devils in Jackson territory. Morrow followed that with a 25-yard touchdown strike to Kai Barker, and with Liechty’s extra point, the game was tied 20-20, and headed to overtime.
“I honestly think Cohen just doesn’t have time to think about [his miscues] – he immediately has to go play defense,” Burton said. “He doesn’t have time to dwell on it. I think that does help him out, as far as having a short memory, because now he has to go focus on his defense keys, reading their offense, and figuring out how to stop them. I think that helps. Also, his tenacity – the kid’s a winner, and he doesn’t want to lose.”
Both teams scored in the first overtime – a 5-yard run by Morrow for the Red Devils, and a 1-yard run by Janssen for the Broncs. Both teams elected to kick the PAT, and the game was knotted at 27-27.
Janssen scored again to start the second overtime, and with the PAT, the Broncs led 34-27. Evanston answered with another 1-yard touchdown run by Morrow – set up by a 9-yard run by Roberts – but this time, Burton elected to go for the win. Morrow was stopped at the one on the two-point conversion, and the Broncs eked out the win, 34-33.
“At times, I can get emotional, and it was an emotional decision,” Burton said of opting to go for two. “I didn’t want to go to another overtime – I wanted to win right now. In the third overtime, you have to go for two, so I figured we had a chance to end it, and I took it. It ended, just not how we wanted it.”
Roberts was the workhorse on the ground for the Red Devils, rushing for 121 yards and a touchdown. Morrow finished with 89 yards and three touchdowns; he also completed seven of 14 passes for 117 yards and a touchdown.
Karter Randall pulled in four catches for 61 yards, while Kai Barker caught three balls for 56 yards and a score.
“Karter Randall had a couple of nice catches, Kai was catching the ball,” Burton said. “But Brady Roberts, again – 121 yards and a touchdown. He just does what he does, game in and game out. And then he’s second or third on the team in defensive points. Same with Cohen, those kids are always right there.”
Morrow led the charge on defense, with 16.5 points, followed by Cole Robinette with 13 points and Roberts with 12. Kai Barker and Drew Barker finished with 10 points apiece.
The Red Devils are back at home Friday, hosting 3A West rival Powell (3-3,1-1 in 3A West).
“Powell is big and physical up front – we have to match that,” Burton said. “We need to use our speed and our athleticism to neutralize some of that size and strength they have up front, on both sides of the ball. They have a couple of matchups outside that we have to take care of, but realistically, it’s gotta be a physical game, and we just have to beat them to it.”