Trevians force 4 turnovers in 24-7 road victory
Jack O'Malley credited a week of solid practice preparation for putting New Trier's defenders in the right place at the right time Friday night at Lazier Field in Evanston.
New Trier quarterback Jack Nykaza finds some running room against Evanston Friday night. Nykaza had 81 yards rushing on 21 carries with a 2-yard touchdown run during the Trevians' 24-7 win. (Photo by Nic Summers www.SportsStarPhotos.com)
New Trier forced four turnovers – including a pair of controversial fumble recoveries – and that made the difference in a 24-7 triumph that stamped New Trier as eligible for the Class 8A state playoffs.
Trevians' coach Dan Starkey wasn't ready to celebrate – not yet.
"We're not there yet," Starkey said after New Trier improved to 5-3 overall and 2-2 in the Central Suburban League South. "We're not thinking about the playoffs, not until we get that sixth win, if we can get past Waukegan next week."
The loss left Evanston, now 4-4, in playoff limbo. Teams need at least five victories to be considered for postseason play, but some of those teams in the past have been left on the sidelines under the Illinois High School Association’s playoff point system. Evanston concludes the regular season next Friday against Niles West.
"I don't get caught up in that playoff scenario, because you can't control that," Evanston coach Mike Burzawa said. "Some years 5-4 teams get in, and some years 5-4 doesn't get you in. You never want it to come down to the good, old computer and the points. Hopefully we have a lot of football left."
In the 102nd game of a rivalry that dates back to 1913, New Trier bounced back from last year's loss to the Wildkits with takeaways every time the visitors needed them.
New Trier's defense hasn't necessarily excelled in that category since recording five takeaways in the season opener against Warren. But with much more than bragging rights in the rivalry at stake Friday night, the defense was full of good hands people.
O'Malley forced a fumble into the hands of teammate Nick Hedge right before halftime to thwart a potential scoring drive, and with nine minutes remaining the game turned when Trevians' safety Max Kraus came up with a loose football even though most fans on the Evanston side of the field thought that quarterback Max Block had fallen on his own fumble and the play was over.
Evanston's Xavier Levy (left) avoids the grasp of New Trier's Douglas Gill during Friday's game. (Photo by Nic Summers www.SportsStarPhotos.com)
Here's how Kraus saw it.
"The quarterback hit his own back with the ball, and he happened to fall on it," Kraus recalled. "But while he was on the ground, I just yanked it out of his hands. The coaches are always telling us that it's all about playing to the end, playing to the whistle.
"I thought the referee would give it back to them, but he didn't. That's definitely the biggest play I've ever made. I just sat there with it until the whistle blew."
New Trier, nursing only a 10-7 lead at that point, then marched 45 yards in 10 plays with quarterback Jack Nykaza (81 yards rushing, 21 carries) scoring on a 2-yard plunge. That score came with 5 minutes, 19 seconds remaining in the game and the Trevians tacked on another score after a Chris Hall interception and two unsportsmanlike penalties against Evanston on that turnover. Devin Boehm raced around end for a 13-yard touchdown run to apply the finishing touch.
"With nine minutes left, we're driving the ball and I thought we were going to score," Burzawa said. "It came down to those turnovers. That's obviously the difference in a game when two teams are so evenly matched.
"It was one of those nights where everything went against us. I'm extremely proud of our kids and the way they battled tonight. It's definitely tough to lose to New Trier like this on Senior Night. It definitely hurts. It leaves a sour taste in our mouths.
"Before the half we thought we were gonna score, too. We moved the ball real well and I'm not sure what happened over on the other side of the field. The call was so late that we were getting our next play ready when the official pointed the other way."
Evanston running back Ray Bahr (left) gives a stiff arm to New Trier's Sam Coffey Friday in Evanston. (Photo by Nic Summers www.SportsStarPhotos.com)
"We filled the gaps pretty hard tonight," linebacker O'Malley said. "We knew where they'd be with the ball, so we could lay some good hits on them.
"On that play right before the half, the ball was on about the 30 and their guy (Hampton) came around end. I know he didn't see me coming. I went flying at him, knocked the ball out and the ball came right to Nick (Hedge). Nick really played a great game for us again tonight. All Evanston tried to do all night was run on us. I've been playing against Evanston and beating them since I was in eighth grade, and I couldn't come out of here with a loss tonight."
The home team regrouped with a scoring drive to open the second half, as Xavier Levy returned the opening kick 37 yards to put the Wildkits in prime field position at their own 44. Evanston threw only one pass in the 13-play march, and Hampton made up for the fumble with three carries for 24 yards before Ray Bahr scored on a 1-yard run.
Bahr racked up 95 yards on 24 attempts, while Block carried a career-high 13 times for 37 yards in the loss.
"We did run our quarterbacks more tonight," Burzawa said. "We think that can be one of our strengths as a team, and we wanted to take advantage of that. Max is a pretty strong kid back there and we thought it would work tonight. I thought our offensive line gave us a pretty good push, too. But we still need to improve on our blocking, and we need to be a little more disciplined, too."