SKOKIE — Craig Dawkins has been a running back for Niles North for nine days and he has excelled at the position by digging deeper each time the Vikings needed him.
Dawkins, a junior, produced 368 all-purpose yards, scoring five of his team’s seven touchdowns in a come-from-behind 48-37 win over crosstown rival Niles West on Saturday at Niles West.
Two days before the Vikings’ 49-14 season-opening win over Shepard on Aug. 29, starting running back Barrington Wade, a junior, was injured. So Coach Mark Egofske switched Dawkins from his slot receiver position to running back.
“He’s a phenomenal athlete,” Egofske said of Dawkins. “We have no idea how good he can be. He hit .400 for [the Niles North] baseball team. He gets better the more he plays.”
Part of Dawkins’ magic Saturday was his resilience. Halfway through the second quarter he was shaken up on a play and had to leave the game for six snaps. As soon as he returned, he went 20 yards for a touchdown to get the Vikings within five points of Niles West.
The next time Dawkins touched the ball he returned a kickoff 90 yards for another touchdown. On both scores, as soon as he got a step ahead of the defense, he accelerated.
“When I’m out there I get into a zone,” Dawkins said. “When I see daylight I dig down and run faster.”
Dawkins wasn’t done with injuries or long runs. He limped off the field with 2:37 left in the game and the Vikings ahead 41-37. He came back one play later, took a handoff from senior quarterback Tony Granato and ran 50 yards for another touchdown to give Niles North an insurmountable 48-37 lead.
“You never know when you are going to play football again,” Dawkins said of his effort after injury. “You have to dig down and play every play like it’s your last.”
Dawkins added a 5-yard touchdown run in the third quarter and a 3-yard scoring run in the fourth to put Niles North in front for good.
When Dawkins was out, Granato dug down and stepped up, completing 17-of-22 passes for 173 yards and a touchdown. He also ran for 43 more.
“You can always dig deeper,” Granato said.
• Niles West senior quarterback Tommy Galanopoulos kept his team ahead from early in the first quarter until there was just 3:31 left in the contest. He ran for 138 yards while completing 12-of-23 passes for 72 yards.
• One of Galanopoulos’ throws was a 15-yard touchdown pass to sophomore Matthew Metz to give Niles West a 15-7 lead late in the second quarter. He also connected with senior Quran Spillman on a 13-yard scoring strike in the third quarter.
• Niles West running back Brandon Costantino put on a show as well. The senior carried the ball for 215 yards on 17 carriers while scoring a pair of touchdowns. One, the Wolves’ first score, went for 57 yards and another for 61.