Maine South roars back to defeat Evanston

There was a lot of action packed into the first half alone when host Maine South met Evanston in a battle of Central Suburban League South Division football unbeatens Friday in Park Ridge.

Trailing 23-14 at halftime, the six-time state champions could have folded, but they outscored the Wildkits 17-0 in the second half for an exciting 31-23 victory on senior night.

After an interception by Evanston's Mark Canon Jr., Evanston quarterback Dylan Groff hit teammate Kamau Ransom with a 73-yard touchdown pass on the Wildkits' first play from scrimmage as Ransom barely hauled in the pass before racing down the right sideline for a quick 7-0 lead.

Maine South (7-1, 4-0) answered that score on its ensuing possession as the Hawks marched 55 yards with a 4-yard TD run by Mike Sajenko (109 yards on 22 carries), tying the score at 7-7 midway through the first quarter.

After being stopped on the Maine South 1-yard line on fourth down early in the second quarter, Evanston tackled Maine South quarterback Rowan Keefe in the end zone for a safety and a 9-7 advantage.

Then the Wildkits put together a 64-yard scoring drive as a 3-yard TD pass from Groff to Ransom extended the lead to 16-7 following the extra point by Ben Barney.

After a drive by the Hawks stalled near midfield, Evanston (5-3, 3-1) took possession again late in the second quarter.

On third down, a pass by Groff was deflected up into the air, and Maine South's Frank Bartell was right on the spot and raced 52 yards on the interception for the touchdown with 17.2 seconds left in the first half.

Evanston responded once again on the ensuing kickoff as Canon Jr. went 96 yards for the TD with no time left in the first half as the referee picked up a penalty flag on the play, resulting in a 23-14 halftime lead for the Wildkits.

Maine South's Sam Taglia cut the lead to 23-17 with a 32-yard field goal with 6:55 left in the third quarter.

The Hawks took their first lead of the contest as Keefe (75 yards on 15 rushes) hit Will Guzaldo with a 41-yard pass before Keefe scored on a 2-yard keeper on the next play for a 24-23 edge with 1:11 left in the third quarter.

"Defensively we had to shore things up, give them some different looks, and kudos to the defense for sticking together," Maine South coach Dave Inserra said. "We mixed it up with the run and the pass, and when it came down to it, we ran the ball and ran some clock."

Maine South kept the momentum going as the Hawks went 85 yards on 9 plays with Keefe (15-for-22, 168 yards) hitting Guzaldo with a 26-yard pass before Bartell caught a 12-yard TD pass in the right corner of the end zone for a 31-23 lead with 7:51 to play.

Groff (10-for-20, 135 yards) ran for 151 yards on 19 attempts while teammate Gio Milam-Pryor ran for 62 yards on 9 carries.

"After the pick-6 (by Bartell) we knew we still had push, and we knew we had it," said Sajenko, whose team closes out the regular season at New Trier next week. "He (Keefe) calmed down in the second half, we got the job done and kept running the ball."

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