Clinging to a 14-13 lead over the Ben Lomond Scots with 15 seconds left in regulation, Evanston High School head football coach Jim Burton knew that his defense — a unit that had come up big all night — would have to do so one more time.
Burton needn’t have worried, though that would have been a lot to ask of the third-year head coach. Needing a two-point conversion to snatch victory away from the Red Devils in the final seconds, Ben Lomond quarterback Jayden Sawyer tried to hit a receiver on a quick slant, but overlooked Evanston sophomore linebacker Kai Barker crashing the play. Barker stepped in front of the receiver and picked off the pass, sealing the win for the Red Devils, and giving Burton his first 1-0 start since he took over the program.
“It felt great to finally get a win in our first outing, and especially the way we won,” said senior captain Jaxin Moore. “Even though it wasn’t pretty, we found a way as a team to get it done.”
The game was a defensive battle from the start, with both teams trading 3-and-outs to open the first quarter. As the quarter wore on, both teams began to move the ball with some success, though neither could put points on the board. Evanston’s special teams came up big in the first quarter, with punter David Perez routinely burying the ball deep into Scots’ territory, giving the home team a long field to deal with.
The Red Devils appeared to draw first blood as time wound down in the first quarter, when quarterback Jaxin Moore hit Quinton Elmer for a 28-yard touchdown. A holding call back at the line of scrimmage negated the score.
The Red Devils finally broke the stalemate early in the second quarter. With the Scots driving in their own territory, Moore stripped a Ben Lomond receiver of the ball, giving the Red Devils possession on the Scots’ 24-yard line. Moore pitched to Perez on the first play from scrimmage, and the speedy senior caught the corner, eventually brought down at the six.
With first and goal at the six, running back Carsen Knight barreled up the middle and fell into the end zone, giving the Red Devils a 6-0 lead. Sophomore kicker Dylan Liechty booted the extra point, and Evanston held its first lead in a season opener since the 2018 season.
The two teams traded punts the rest of the quarter, and Evanston took a 7-0 lead into the half. Perez finished the first half with 34 yards on four carries, while Knight had 17 yards and a touchdown on five carries.
The Red Devils came out swinging to start the second half, with Perez taking the opening kickoff 35 yards to set the tone. Moore took over from there, guiding Evanston on a 60-yard scoring drive that culminated in a one-yard touchdown pass from Moore to Jake Robinette.
Liechty’s extra point made it 14-0.
A short kickoff gave the Scots good field position to start their first drive, and after completing a long pass, appeared poised to get on the scoreboard. Evanston’s defense had other plans, however, and on a fourth and long, Elmer broke up a pass inside the five-yard line to give Evanston back the ball. On the Red Devils’ first play from scrimmage, Perez once again caught the corner, sprinting 73 yards for an apparent touchdown. But for the second time in the game, a holding penalty took the points off the board; the drive went from bad to worse a few plays later, when an injury took Moore out of the game. Sophomore quarterback Cohen
Morrow — who had been playing lights out on defense — was called in to replace Moore.
Needing a score to stay in the game, Ben Lomond drove down to Evanston’s 10-yard line. The Red Devils’ defense turned away the Scots on three straight plays, but the fourth time was the charm for the home team — on 4th-and-goal, quarterback Austin Herbert found Isaac Escobar in the end zone for the score, halving Evanston’s lead to 14-7 as the third quarter ended.
Defense was the name of the game in the fourth, as neither team was able to move the ball effectively. The Scots finally got something going in the game’s final minutes, as backup quarterback Jayden Sawyer marched the Scots down to the Evanston 17-yard line. With 17 seconds to play, Sawyer hit Kole Sparrow in the corner of the end zone for a touchdown, cutting Evanston’s lead to 14-13.
Electing to forgo a tie and force overtime, Ben Lomond lined up for the two-point conversion and a chance to win the game. Barker read the play perfectly and came up with the pick, sealing the win for the Red Devils.
Knight and Perez were the workhorses on the ground for the Red Devils, each rushing for 44 yards; Knight scored the first touchdown of the contest on a six-yard run.
“All the credit goes to the big guys up front,” Moore said. “They set the tone for the game, and without them doing what they did, we would not have been able to move the ball as much as we did.”
Under center, Moore went 2-of-6 with a touchdown and a pick; Morrow was 0-for-2 in relief of an injured Moore.
Robinette caught one pass for six yards and a touchdown.
“Offensively, I felt like the score did not show how well we played,” Moore said. “We bounced back from a couple of touchdowns called back, which was very encouraging, seeing that we can overcome adversity. For us seniors, it’s our third year in this new system, and I really feel like we’re starting to understand our roles a lot better.”
The Red Devils are on the road again this week heading to Mountain View to take on the Buffalos. It will be the first game of the season for head coach Brent Walk’s team, and the Buffs are always in the hunt for a 2A state title; they will be looking to avenge last year’s loss to Evanston.