West Allis Central used an opportunistic defense and timely turnovers to stop a furious Wauwatosa East rally and emerge with a 28-21 victory on Parents Night in West Allis.
With Governor Scott Walker on hand to see his sons Matt and Alex in action for the Red Raiders, East found itself trailing early in the fourth quarter, 21-14.
Things looked good for the Red Raiders, though, when linebacker Will Monreal threw Central running back Troy Brown for a loss, then sacked junior quarterback Dakota Behrs on a fourth down attempt at the 7:17 mark.
East quickly marched downfield, picking up three straight first downs: a sideline pass to senior Vince Cupertino, a quick run by senior running back Michael Meade and a sneak by junior quarterback Kyle Vnuk.
But with 5 minutes to go, the game turned once and for all in the Bulldogs’ favor, courtesy of a pick-six by Central senior defensive back Brian Hoppe.
Hoppe snared a Vnuk pass at Central’s 20 yard line, raced down the sideline, outran the crowd, and ended up in a footrace with Vnuk. The lanky quarterback caught him by the shoulders, but Hoppe shook him off, sidestepped one last tackle at the 5-yard line and bounced into the end zone. After the PAT, Central led, 28-14.
East was far from done, though. After tossing a pair of incomplete passes, Vnuk lobbed a soft bomb down the right sideline that junior wide receiver Shaquille Redding ran beneath, hauled in, and took down to the 10-yard line. Vnuk found Redding again on the next play, this time in the corner of the end zone, making the score 28-21.
On the ensuing Central drive, East sacked Behrs, stuffed sophomore running back Dushon Glover and forced an incomplete pass.
With 2:41 remaining on its own 33-yard line, the Red Raiders abandoned the run. Facing 4th & 4, Vnuk hit Cupertino for a 6-yard gain and first down. Three plays later his second fourth-down pass attempt sailed incomplete, broken up by a pair of defensive backs jumping Cupertino’s out route.
Though Central managed to strip less than a minute off the clock after taking over on downs, the clock still ran out on East. Vnuk’s desperation pass at 0:02 found its way into the arms of Bulldogs senior Eric Vis.
“What went wrong was we shot ourselves in the foot again,” East coach Jake Wolter said. “Bad reads, holding the ball too long. Footing slips, bad protection. Penalties and mental mistakes. We snapped the ball over our punter’s head in the first and gave them a free touchdown.
“When we execute, we’re fine,” he added. “That’s the name of the game. Not to take anything from Central. But nobody's really stopped us. It’s been ourselves stopping ourselves. It’s frustrating.”
The run-up to the fourth quarter lacked the excitement of the final period. The teams combined for 15 drives in the first half, resulting in seven punts, three turnovers-on-downs and two turnovers. The teams' opened the second half with four consecutive punts.
Both teams were quick to credit the others' defense.
East “brought a lot of people, and sometimes they confused our line,” said Central senior left guard Jacob Spenner. “We kept talking over and over about it. We had to push, get the running game going. Without it, there’s no passing game.”
For much of the evening, it was an old-fashioned slugfest, with two teams battling for essentially 30 yards of turf, with a medley of missed pass opportunities and short runs, interspersed with timely sacks and turnovers.
Central jumped to an early 7-0 lead after that bad snap on a punt. Behrs, making his first start for the Bulldogs, threw a third-down bullet into Hoppe’s chest three plays later.
The Bulldogs stretched the lead to 13-0 after recovering a fumble on East’s 22-yard line. Glover needed only three carries to get to the end zone, dragging multiple East defenders with him en route.
East finally got on the board in the second quarter courtesy of its defense. The defensive line caught Brown in the backfield, and returned the loose ball for a touchdown to make it 13-7.
Central struck again midway through the fourth quarter. An electric punt return by Hoppe – 48 yards, with a touchdown-saving tackle from junior James Kenagy – put Central at East’s 23. Three plays later, Behrs split the seam to Hoppe, who bounced off one defender and muscled another into the end zone, reaching across the goal line clutching the ball with both hands.
“This isn’t the Tosa of the last three years,” Central coach Dex Rodriguez said. “This is a darn good football team. Last week they played (Menomonee) Falls to a draw. This is a good team. They came at us. Blitzed the heck out of us.
“But we came back at them. We had turnovers at the right times and came out with the W.”
Wauwatosa East falls to 1-3 with the loss and will face undefeated Brookfield East next week. West Allis Central moved to 2-2 with the victory and will face Menomonee Falls next week.