PUYALLUP - Quarterback Dalton Ritchey scored three rushing touchdowns, cornerback Tayler Angevine returned an interception 80 yards for a score, and Pacific Lutheran made a statement Saturday with a 41-27 Northwest Conference football win over nationally ranked Willamette at Sparks Stadium.
With their third consecutive victory, which came at the expense of previously unbeaten Willamette, PLU (4-2 overall) moves into second place in the Northwest Conference standings with a 3-1 record. Linfield leads the circuit with a 3-0 record, while Willamette (6-1 overall) drops back to third in the standings at 2-1.
Depending on which poll you choose, the Bearcats came into the game ranked either No. 19 (American Football Coaches Association) or No. 22 (D3football.com). They left Sparks Stadium with their first loss of the season, which came at the expense of a young PLU team that continues to make great strides as the season progresses.
Angevine, a senior cornerback, is one of the veterans on this team, and it was his interception return early in the third period that swung the momentum to the Pacific Lutheran side of the field.
Willamette trailed 19-13 at the half, but starting from its own 29-yard line had marched down the field with the opening possession of the second half and seemed poised to take the lead. Instead, Angevine stepped in front of Josh Dean's pass in the left flat for the interception and went the distance for Pacific Lutheran's third interception return for touchdown this season.
Ritchey, Pacific Lutheran's sophomore quarterback, was 16-for-28 passing for 197 yards with one touchdown and one interception. He also led his team with 65 net yards on 14 carries, including touchdown runs of 2, 5 and 3 yards.
The Lutes drove 73 yards in eight plays for the game's opening score, Ritchey sneaking in from the 2-yard line, and they got the ball back on Willamette's next offensive play when Dalton Darmody intercepted Dean and returned the ball 11 yards to the 18-yard line. A personal foul penalty set up PLU at the 9-yard line, and on third-and-goal from the f5-yard line Ritchey leaped high before being flipped and landing in the end zone.
Those were just two of the five touchdowns scored in the second quarter. Willamette came right back down the field, going 64 yards in 11 plays with Dean scrambling right to avoid trouble before finding Terrell Malley for a 5-yard scoring strike.
Connor Cummings returned the ensuing kickoff 41 yards to the Willamette 46-yard line, setting up a short six-play drive that ended when Ritchey hit Kyle Warner, slanting across the middle, for 17 yards and a touchdown.
Trailing 19-7 with just 1:33 left on the first half clock, Willamette raced 75 yards down the field in just six plays before Dean took a quarterback draw in from the 5-yard line. Dean threw for 60 yards during the drive.
The Lutes and Bearcats alternated touchdowns in the second half, with Angevine getting things going for the home team with his "pick six."
Willamette's response was an impressive nine-play, 76-yard drive that ended on Taylor Wyman's 8-yard scoring run. Dean found Jake Turner for 31 yards on a second-and-29 early in the drive.
And then it was PLU's turn. Starting from their own 25-yard line, the Lutes put together a methodical 12-play drive that included eight rushes and four passes. Niko Madison swept around the left end and cut it back behind a convoy of blockers to find the end zone from one yard out.
Showing why it is one of the nation's highly ranked teams, Willamette came right back down the field, going 70 yards on eight plays to score on Dean's 41-yard pass to Jake Turner. Dean rolled to his right and lofted the ball to Turner, who found a hole in the PLU secondary.
That set up one of the most exciting plays in the game, and as it turned out the most impressive drive by either team in a game with plenty of scoring marches.
The Willamette kickoff squirted through the hands of Connor Cummings, who got out to the 1-yard line after fielding the ball in the back of the end zone. With 14:13 showing on the clock and clinging to a 34-27 lead, Pacific Lutheran proceeded to go 99 yards on 18 plays while taking 9:52 off of the game clock.
The Lutes were aided by a Willamette personal foul penalty that moved the ball out to the 16-yard line. The scoring march included three third down conversions and a fourth down conversion. Senior fullback Cody Pohren carried the ball four times for 23 yards, while Ritchey converted a third-and-nine with a 10-yard run and a third-and-eight with an 11-yard pass to Daniel Herr. With his team facing a fourth-and three at the Willamette 16-yard line, Brandon James carried the ball eight yards and a new set of downs. Ritchey finished the drive with a 3-yard run, giving the Lutes their final 14-point advantage.
Willamette had one last gasp with a 14-play drive that ended with a Dean incompletion following a quarterback sack by Mychael Tuiasosopo. After that, PLU ran out the final 1:14.
The Bearcats compiled 440 total yards, including 335 through the air, compared to 354 total yards, 197 passing, for PLU.
Dean, who came into the game averaging nearly 400 passing yards per game, was 26-for-40 for 335 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. Malley had six catches fro 58 yards and Turner made four catches for 101 yards. Wyman led the ground game with 43 yards on six carries.
Ritchey's passing yardage included four throws to Warner for 62 yards and three catches apiece by Herr and Lucas Sontra. Ritchey gained 65 of PLU's 157 net rushing yards.
Pacific Lutheran's defense, which came into the game with 20 takeaways in five games, added three more in the form of two interceptions and a fumble recovery. Sean McFadden and Greg Hibbard both had nine tackles from the safety position for the Lutes, who also got two quarterback sacks from Tuiasosopo.
PLU returns to Northwest Conference action next Saturday when it plays the winless Puget Sound Loggers. Kickoff is set for 1 p.m. in Baker Stadium.
- PLU -