As debuts go, Travis Balcerzak couldn’t have asked for a better one.
In his first game playing wide receiver, the West Allis Hale senior hauled in two touchdown passes in a 21-7 win over rival West Allis Central on Sept. 21.
“I was a little nervous before the game,” Balcerzak said. “But once I got into the flow, I was able to settle in.”
A depleted receiving unit thrust Balcerzak into the starting lineup on offense in a game featuring two teams hungry for their first conference win, and it didn’t take long for him to make an impact.
On the Huskies opening drive, quarterback Nick Sotiros connected with Balcerzak down the middle for a 38-yard touchdown and a 7-0 lead.
“It was great to get the ball in his hands,” Hale coach Brandon Ehret said, “and give him the opportunity to make some plays tonight.”
But Balcerzak was just as impressive on the other side of the ball, at defensive back, where he has started all season.
With Central (0-4, 0-5), driving early in the second quarter, Balcerzak intercepted Will Konecny in the end zone and returned the ball 105 yards for a touchdown.
“I just saw open field and I had to hit it,” Balcerzak said of the interception return.
While the score put Central in a 13-0 hole, the Bulldogs trimmed the deficit on their next possession, albeit in unusual fashion.
On third down and short just outside the Hale 40-yard line, senior running back Devan Finney scampered for an eight-yard gain but fumbled as he was being dragged down.
The ball bounced forward and right into the hands of Central running back Dushun Glover, who streaked 32-yards into the end zone.
Down 13-7, Central was poised to put more points on the board before halftime after Josh Neary intercepted Sotiros near midfield on Hale’s next possession.
But on 4th down and two at the 18 yard line, defensive lineman Reese Weishar stuffed running back Jason Alvarez to force a turnover on downs.
“It’s been the same thing all year, we can’t score points,” said Central coach Dax Rodriguez. “We get inside the 20 and we just self-destruct.”
In the first half, Central racked up 198 yards of total offense to just 73 for Hale, which improved to 1-3 in the Greater Metro and 2-3 overall.
The second half was more of the same for the Bulldogs, who continued to have success moving the ball but were unable to punch it into the end zone.
“We probably outgained them by a couple hundred yards,” Rodriguez said. “But it doesn’t matter if you can’t score points.”
After a scoreless third quarter, Hale tallied its final touchdown in familiar fashion to open the final quarter.
On the first play, Sotiros hit Balcerzak over the middle again for a 21-yard touchdown. A two-point run by Zach Smith gave the Huskies a commanding 21-7 lead.
“It was more satisfying than any win we’ll have this season,” Balcerzak said. “This is the biggest game of our year.”
Ehret acknowledged the magnitude of the victory, but also knew it would be a hard-fought battle.
“I give all the credit to Central,” Ehret said. “They were a hungry football team tonight. They moved the ball at times, but we were a bend, but don’t break defense, and some kids really stepped up to make plays in some crucial situations.”
The biggest of which came from Balcerzak, who Ehret said will continue to play a prominent role on offense after his impressive debut.
“One of his goals at the beginning of the season was to play wide receiver,” Ehret said. “Well, he got his chance and we’re going to continue to roll with it.”
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