Willamette goes back to basics
When the Willamette Bearcats’ plane touched down in
Portland, Ore., on Sunday evening, they expected a fairly routine
ride back to their campus in Salem, about an hour south.
That is, until the bus they were waiting for got a flat tire, causing an hour’s delay.
Then the replacement bus broke down on the highway – with the team inside.
“It took us longer to get from Portland to Salem than it did for us to get from Chicago to Portland,” coach Mark Speckman said.
Photo by Mark Kinslow
But if ground transportation was a problem for the Bearcats on
Sunday night, it certainly wasn’t on Saturday afternoon, as
Willamette rushed for 277 of its 344 total yards in a 33-14 victory
over UW-Stevens Point. The Bearcats averaged 6.3 yards per carry
and had seven players rush for positive yardage in a victory that
put them in the drivers seat for a possible Pool C bid if they
can’t beat Linfield and win the Northwest Conference
It’s no secret that Willamette likes to run the ball: The Bearcats averaged more than 234 yards per game on the ground last year. But WU’s recent resurgence has largely coincided with the revival of their passing attack. Senior wide receiver Scott Schoettgen is perhaps the Northwest Conference’s most feared deep threat, and coaches are high on the potential of sophomore transfer Jake Knecht. Sophomore quarterbacks Brian Widing and Kevin Ramay are both capable of delivering accurate passes, and both saw playing time on Saturday.
On Saturday, though, the Bearcats’ two quarterbacks were just 6-for-12 passing for 67 yards and a touchdown. Those are circa-2004 numbers.
“The wind was really a factor [at Stevens Point],” Speckman said. “I was really hoping to win the coin toss and defer, so I told our captains ‘Whatever happens, don’t lose the coin toss.’
“Of course they lost the coin toss.”
So the Bearcats returned to their roots, and the results were stunning. After their first two possessions netted negative yards, Willamette’s offense scored four of their next five times they touched the ball, including drives of 82, 63, and 28 yards that took a combined 9:37. But it was the final drive of the first half, a lightning-quick seven play, 80 yard drive that took just 1:37 off the clock, that broke the Pointers’ backs.
Taking over at their own 20 with 1:40 left in the half, Bearcats tailback Jamiere Abney went for 37 yards on second down to move the ball into Pointer territory. Terrell Malley took it another 10 before the Bearcats finally shifted to the pass, eventually hitting Knecht for the touchdown with three seconds left.
“Initially when we got the ball, we just didn’t want to make any mistakes,” Speckman said. “But we hit big on a couple of plays, and our philosophy changed a bit.”
The wind also affected the Pointers, who only got the ball to immensely talented wideout Jared Jenkins six times in the half, and one of those was a Willamette-style fly sweep. Redshirt freshman quarterback Casey Barnes was picked off twice, with one or two other balls sailing long.
But it was the Bearcats who were able to adjust, and now have at least one signature win they can point to when the regional rankings come out in October.
“Every game is a playoff game for us,” Speckman said. “Our guys got into Willamette because they’re smart, so I hope they’ve figured that out.”
This Friday, the Bearcats will be back on the bus: first for their trip up to Portland airport, then again for the journey from Dallas to Abilene, where they’ll take on 14th-ranked Hardin-Simmons.
Bus rides notwithstanding, look for Willamette to keep it on the ground.
After a disappointing 6-4, 5-3 campaign last year, Wartburg
announced its candidacy for the IIAC title in stunning fashion on
Saturday, dropping then-No. 17 Monmouth 27-7. The Knights have
always been known for excellent defense, but the number they did on
an offense led by consensus preseason All-American quarterback Alex
Tanney was something to behold. Tanney got his numbers (25-for-40,
224 yards) but was picked off twice and had almost zero support
from the running game. Literally. Wartburg, led by five players
with at least five tackles, held the Scots to exactly 2 yards
rushing on 21 attempts. That’s 0.1 yards per carry. Whether
or not the Knights are really capable of challenging Central and
Coe remains to be seen, but they’ve definitely inserted
themselves into the conversation.
While preseason MIAC favorite St. Thomas took care of business
in relatively uneventful fashion (a 40-7 thrashing of St. Norbert),
one Minnesota team got an unexpected shock from an unassuming
opponent as Carleton fell 49-35 to UMAC opponent Crown on the road.
The Knights were 7-3 and one win away from the MIAC title just two
years ago, then backslid to 3-7 last season. But with 21 of 22
starters returning, most observers at least expected Carleton to
move back toward the top of the MIAC. That’s in serious doubt
Still, it’s important to give the Storm proper credit for the UMAC’s biggest win in several years. Quarterback Adam Hayes was simply superb, going 31-43 for 342 yards and six (six!) touchdowns with no interceptions, Tyler Hallblade gained 100 yards on 22 carries, and the defense made just enough plays to win.
It was a mixed bag for the WIAC this week. La Crosse dropped a
33-20 game to East Texas Baptist, while Whitewater did what
Whitewater does, cruising to a 35-0 win over Adrian. Questions
about the Warhawks’ kicking game linger, however,
particularly after starter Stephen Guelff missed all three of his
PAT attempts. Platteville won its 12th consecutive opening game
under head coach Mike Emendorfer, beating Buena Vista 31-2, but
Stout did suffer a disappointing loss, falling 14-13 in overtime to
Black Hills St. Two more schools put together impressive games in
spite of losses: River Falls took No. 11 Ohio Northern to the brink
in a 35-21 loss, while Oshkosh did the same to No. 7 Central,
falling 34-28. Depending on how Stevens Point recovers, the WIAC
behind Whitewater could be wide open.
Only one team in the SCIAC was in action last weekend, as
Occidental opened their season against Menlo, a former D-III school
that switched affiliation to the NAIA this year. The Tigers have
had a rough couple of weeks since coach Dale Widolff was suspended
for unspecified NCAA violations, and it only got worse with an ugly
42-25 loss to the Oaks. Oxy should handle Puget Sound this week,
but if they don’t it could be a long season in Eagle
Finally, big congratulations to Pacific, where two years worth
of planning finally became reality when the Boxers took the field
against Puget Sound. Even more heartening for fans in Forest Grove,
Ore., Keith Buckley’s team settled down after some initial
jitters to turn outscore Puget Sound 16-7 in the second half, and
kicker Jon Lee was named NWC special teams player of the week after
going 4-for-4 on field goals – including one that he kicked
off the ground on a botched snap. The Boxers are young and
they’ll take their lumps this year, but they’ve got a
couple of great chances to pick up wins, starting with their home
opener on Sept. 19 against Claremont-Mudd-Scripps.
With a region as big as the West, I’m always looking for your input. If you have any comments, suggestions, story ideas, or crazy statistics, send me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Enjoy the weekend!