The moment was sudden and unexpected, Jalan Jenkins only reacted.
“I didn’t know what was going on,” the Evanston junior linebacker said. “Everything was going so fast.”
With 9:16 left in Friday’s football game, Jenkins made a jarring hit that separated the ball from scrambling Crete-Monee junior quarterback Frank Douglas. He pounced on the ball and returned it 34 yards for a touchdown as the Wildkits went on to 14-7 victory in Evanston.
Evanston staged a pre-game tribute to the memory of Steve King, its long-time defensive coordinator who died from a heart attack in June. The two teams presented a tribute to his wife and family members.
Several coaches and players wore a replica of King’s No. 27 jersey at Michigan, where he started at cornerback.
Jenkins said he played for King as a freshman and sophomore.
“I knew I had to make a play,” Jenkins said. “I had to do anything in my heart or in my power to get a win for coach King.
“I hit him, the ball popped out and I grabbed it.”
Defense reigned supreme in a game interrupted in the second quarter by lighting and played in a near constant rain.
Evanston (1-1) recorded just one first down in the second half.
The three combined touchdowns were each set up by turnovers.
The game was scoreless at the half as both teams struggled to establish an offensive rhythm.
Crete-Monee (1-1) created the first break at the start of the third quarter. Marshaun Williams broke around the right edge and blindsided Evanston’s 6-4 junior quarterback Matt Little, who fumbled. The Warriors’ Omari Stringer picked up the loose ball and returned it 33 yards for the 7-0 advantage.
Evanston’s defense ratcheted up its own intensity and caused four turnovers, all by Douglas. Senior Wildkits linebacker Ferris Ingraham registered his second fumble recovery at the 2-yard line.
Two plays later, Evanston running back Arrhian Monroe blasted through the defensive line for the score. He also recorded an interception off a tipped ball with 57 seconds remaining that helped seal the victory.
“I was going for the tackle, and I saw that somebody tipped it and I just went for the ball,” Monroe said.
The Warriors had one final chance, taking possession with 27 seconds remaining and having to go 73 yards.
Crete-Monee coach John Konecki disputed the game-winning touchdown, believing that Douglas was already down.
But he liked his team’s effort and acknowledged that youth and inexperience hampered the effort.
“We became predictable toward the end, and you have to credit Evanston and their coaching staff, their kids never stopped fighting,” he said.
“In the end, we made too many turnovers and special teams mistakes, and the bottom line is, you can’t win when you turn the ball over like we did.
I liked how we fought, and I hope we’re going to look back at this game as one where we learned to grow up.”