Grand Island coach Jeff Tomlin says decision-making is one of the strengths Islander senior quarterback Cole Evans possesses on the football field.
But Evans’ best decision as it relates to the Islanders this fall might’ve come last spring when the Creighton baseball recruit chose not to return to play on his select summer team, the Arkansas Prospects. He elected instead to stay home and play on the GI American Legion baseball squad.
“I wanted to be here with the guys this summer, working out in the morning with them, doing some 7-on-7 and being here for our team camps,” said Evans, a first-team Super-State outfielder last spring as a junior.
“We’re a very tight-knit group, and I knew we had a chance to be a very good football team this season. I wanted to do everything I could to prepare for it.”
He’s also doing everything he can to stay focused on the task at hand. Evans could’ve signed his national letter of intent with Creighton this past Wednesday, but he is delaying that until Tuesday, the day after the state final against Omaha Burke at Memorial Stadium (7:15 p.m. kickoff).
“I’ve got bigger and better things in front of me right now,” Evans said.
In the games when the 6-foot-2, 190-pound Evans has been on the field for significant time, the No. 10 Islanders are unbeaten. The two-year starter led them to a 6-0 start before spraining his ankle early in the first quarter of a 30-24 double-overtime loss to No. 9 Millard West, which reached the semifinals of the playoffs before falling to top-ranked Omaha Burke last week.
Evans sat out the next game, a 21-7 upset loss to Lincoln Southwest, before returning less than healthy for the regular season-ending 24-3 victory over Lincoln East.
“I was maybe 50 or 55 percent for that game,” Evans said. “I wanted to strap it on before the playoffs so I wouldn’t get rusty.”
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That strap has come in handy lately because it’s been quite a ride for the Islanders in the postseason. Grand Island wiped out a 24-0 first-half deficit in the first round to Omaha North, scoring 38 straight points to eliminate the defending state champions.
“I can’t lie, that thought crossed my mind,” Evans said when asked if he thought Grand Island’s season might be over trailing by 24 in the first half against the Vikings. “The first half, we couldn’t get anything going and just didn’t execute. The second half, we fired on all cylinders.”
Grand Island found that same offensive rhythm in the fourth quarter of its 27-24 quarterfinal win over No. 2 Millard South, putting together two long back-to-back touchdown marches to wipe out a 10-point deficit with under 10 minutes to play.
No dramatic comebacks were needed with GI’s 37-30 win at No. 5 Bellevue West in the semifinals last Friday, putting the Islanders in their first Class A state football title game since 1990. Evans registered his best game of the postseason, completing 22 of 35 passes for 226 yards and a TD.
Grand Island jumped to a 14-0 lead before the Thunderbirds battle back to tie it at 27 in the third quarter. The Islanders, however, scored the next 10 points on a 5-yard TD run by Timo Sikes and a 23-yard field goal by Kevin Wentling.
Tomlin calls Evans “a heck of an athlete who’s even a better leader.
“He’s improved by leaps and bounds because he understands our offense and how to get the ball to our playmakers,” Tomlin said. “Now that he’s healthy, he’s able to make plays with his feet, and that just adds another dimension to our offense.”
Evans says the physical offensive line, a balanced running game topped by senior John Reilly and a receiver corps led by junior Broc Douglass makes his job easy.
“Our offensive line is second to none and we have a lot of guys who can make things happen with the ball in their hands,” Evans said.