Playing a football game is victory in itself, despite Glenbrook North loss
Ryan Henschel had the proper perspective on Glenbrook North's football season opener, a 48-6 loss to visiting Evanston on March 19.
"It was special," the junior receiver said.
"The circumstances of the game, obviously playing for our brother (Dylan Buckner), so it was just nice to be out there and play with my teammates," Henschel said.
"First game, at least we have a season. That's all that really matters. No matter the outcome of the game. Winning is good, but being out there with your boys is better."
Evanston quarterback Sean Cruz threw 4 touchdown passes, 2 of them to Kamau Ransom, while the Wildkits also ran for 250 yards and touchdowns by Jamarhe Bowen and Sebastian Cheeks.
The Central Suburban League South foe limited Glenbrook North to 109 yards of offense and 3 first downs.
"We have to kind of treat it like a warm-up game, I think," said Spartans senior defensive lineman Sam Dawson, who had a tackle for loss and a sack on consecutive first quarter plays.
"I think we just have to move forward, move past it, act like this game doesn't exist, and we've just got to go back to the fundamentals, because that's really where they were hitting us."
His coach, Matt Purdy, agreed.
"We need to work on our perimeter run game and our perimeter tackling. That's where we really got hurt. They broke out of a tackle and we just didn't pursue well. It's just technique stuff. It's reps. And we're going to rep the crap out of it all week, and we're going to work on tackling," Purdy said.
"You take away the perimeter and things are different. You always want to pound the ball. It's the basics, it really is. It comes down to blocking and tackling almost every single time. And those who execute are successful, and tonight we weren't successful."
Evanston began in foreboding fashion. Forcing a Spartans punt on their first possession, Mark Canon Jr. returned it 49 yards for an apparent touchdown.
That was brought back by penalty since a teammate had signaled for a fair catch. Four plays later, Evanston officially broke the ice when Jamari Jenkins caught a Cruz pass in the middle of three defenders and took it in for a 58-yard touchdown play.
Evanston led 14-0 before Glenbrook North scored on the first possession of the second quarter. Running left, Spartans quarterback Avery Burow had to reverse field when the play broke down. Scrambling to his right, with Wildkits on his heel, he spotted an alert Henschel coming back to the ball, wide open, near the right sideline. Burow zipped it to Henschel near Evanston's 45-yard line, and the 6-foot receiver scored on a 70-yard touchdown play.
"If the quarterback scrambles, you do the opposite, so I came back. He found me and I got to the end zone," Henschel said.
"The play was not designed to go to me, but you never know."
Glenbrook North gained brief momentum with the score. Lineman Mihailo Milutinovic stormed in for a tackle for loss and, at cornerback, Henschel broke up a deep pass that got the Spartans defense off the field.
However, two Evanston scores in three plays from scrimmage provided separation before halftime.
Tightening their splits, the Wildkits linemen led a 48-yard ground surge to Glenbrook North's 3-yard line, where Cruz found Ransom on a quick slant for the score.
Quinn Clarke's kickoff return had Glenbrook North at its own 26-yard line, but a penalty on the next play brought the ball to the 13. Evanston's defense forced Burow into a backward scramble. Evanston lineman Zach Myers knocked the ball loose and teammate Jenkins recovered it in the end zone for a touchdown and 27-6 halftime lead.
Glenbrook North lineman Jackson Carsello, a returning starter along with Milutinovic, described the opener as a "baptism by fire," with sophomores Patrick Mahoney and Tom Ansel and junior Nate McGinnis joining the ensemble and former receiver Burow succeeding Buckner at quarterback.
"It's unfortunate, especially without Dylan, obviously, because he's a once-in-a-lifetime kind of player that you never can find," said the Northwestern-bound Carsello.
"Avery played great, but no one can replace Dylan," Carsello said. "Avery played great, it's his first time ever starting at quarterback. It's the same situation with Avery, it's a baptism by fire. We've got a lot of inexperience at several positions, but these guys are going to progress week to week and we've just got to continue playing and working hard."
Evanston clinched the win with touchdowns on its first three series of the third quarter. Wildkits coach Mike Burzawa, who won a state title as a player at Driscoll in 1991, then helped the Highlanders win seven straight titles as either head or assistant coach between 2001-07, praised Purdy and his staff as a "first-class group."
"Our hearts go out to them and everybody in the Glenbrook North family and the community with what they've been dealing with this year," Burzawa said. "We've got a ton of respect for those guys, and are excited to get that first win tonight."
Glenbrook North hopes to do that March 26 at Glenbrook South.
"Tonight was a range of emotions that you really can't fully describe," Purdy said. "You had the excitement of the first game, it's March, you've waited 17 or 18 months, you're going through the emotions of what we've gone through in the last few months with the passing of Dylan. You just find yourselves kind of in a roller coaster.
"Everything being so condensed, you're trying to get a football team ready in two and a half weeks. It's really only been a week since there's actually been full contact. There's unbelievable challenges, and the kids practiced so well, but our rustiness showed."