Stingy defense critical to Evanston’s success

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EVANSTON — Evanston is on the cusp of clinching a playoff berth and one key to the Wildkits’ success has been their improved defense.

The Wildkits (5-2 overall, 2-1 CSL South) shut down Waukegan in a 27-6 home victory on Friday, keeping the Bulldogs scoreless in the second half. It was a strong performance that has grown more common this season. Junior Melvin Bobo IV, a scrambling quarterback, was Waukegan’s biggest weapon, but Evanston’s swarming defense contained him.

“(We) make sure the other team is one-dimensional,” senior linebacker Zach Smith said. “If a team is good at passing, we take away their passing and make them run. If they’re good at passing and running, we just make them do one of those things. That’s been our basic game plan.”

Fellow senior and linebacker Erik Brannon likened Evanston’s defense to “a pack of wolves,” hounding the ballcarrier and cutting down options.

“It’s an all-for-one effort and there are no superstars on the defense,” Brannon said. “Working with a group of talented guys like this is great — we’re all making sure everyone knows what they’re doing.”

Evanston’s final two regular season games are important conference matchups at Maine South (5-2, 3-0) on Friday and at home against New Trier (3-4, 1-2) on Oct. 25. The Wildkits, who are currently playoff eligible, earn an automatic playoff berth if they win at least one of those games.

“At this point in the year, you need your players to step up and that’s what they’re doing,” coach Mike Burzawa said

Senior Michael Pope, who plays linebacker alongside Smith and Brannon, also put in time at running back against Waukegan. He finished with 40 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries as well as some big tackles and sacks on Bobo.

Pope said the team has been “getting ready mentally and physically for the grind.”

“Pope’s got a lot of heart,” Burzawa said. “He’s a warrior out there for us. We love the effort that Michael gives us and he’s been holding the edge for us defensively all year.”

Burzawa also praised Brannon and Smith, who have teamed up for effective blitzes and protect the middle of the field, cutting off interior running plays.

“Brannon’s kind of been the unsung hero in there, he’s just got a motor and makes a lot of plays,” Burzawa said. “Zach Smith’s been a three-year starter for us and is working on both sides extremely well.”

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