West Allis — Dax Rodriguez's second season as head football coach at West Allis Central started off on the right foot, just as his first season did.
Rodriguez hopes that is the only similarity between the two campaigns.
The Bulldogs' Ryan Barwick kicked an 18-yard field goal with 4 seconds remaining as Central pulled off a 17-14 upset over the host Catholic Memorial Crusaders, WIAA postseason participants in 2007-08, at Waukesha North on Friday.
A year ago, the Bulldogs won their season opener, 40-6, over Watertown but lost their next seven games.
"It's huge," Rodriguez said of Friday's win. "It's a big confidence builder for the kids. We knew we could play with these guys. We just had to show it. It's one thing to say it and another to do it.
"It's a nice feeling, a big monkey off our back."
Catholic Memorial tied the score at 14 with a touchdown and two-point conversion with about 4 minutes remaining. The Bulldogs took the ensuing kickoff back to their own 25-yard line and marched down the field with time winding down. A pass interference call and a 30-yard completion from Barwick to Brian Hoppe helped West Allis get down to the Crusaders' 1-yard line where Barwick chipped in the game winner.
"Last year, if we had given up a touchdown to tie it after dominating the game, we would have folded," Rodriguez said. "But this year's team, they had confidence they were going to win this game."
The Bulldogs scored their touchdowns in the first half, including a 94-yard drive that ended in a 9-yard screen pass from Barwick to Matt Pawlowski. Mike Westrich pulled in a 27-yard TD pass from Barwick at the start of the second quarter.
Catholic Memorial punched in two third-quarter field goals before tying the game late in the fourth.
Barwick completed 24 of 30 passes for 210 yards, mostly coming on short, underneath passes. He did not get sacked.
"(The Crusaders) were playing pretty soft all night," Rodriguez said. "They weren't going to give up the big one. The touchdown and the pass to Brian were our only two big pass plays. It's a tribute to Ryan. He took what the defense game him. He kept dinking and dunking."
Linebacker Anthony Gambeck had nine tackles to lead the Bulldogs' defense, a unit that registered six sacks and held Catholic Memorial to 7 yards on 3-of-7 passing.
The Bulldogs host Racine Horlick at the West Allis Athletic Complex at 7 p.m. Friday.
- David Cotey
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