SALEM, Ore. – Quarterback Josh Yoder weaved his way for four rushing touchdowns and passed for two other scores as No. 2 Linfield riddled the 25th-ranked Willamette Bearcats for 451 rushing yards and 622 yards of offense en route to a 56-15 Northwest Conference victory Saturday at McCullouch Stadium.
Yoder ran for a career-high 175 yards and completed 13 of 20 passes for another 171 yards for the unbeaten Wildcats, who improved 7-0 for the season and moved within one victory of securing at least a share of their fifth straight NWC crown. The Bearcats lost their second straight contest after a 5-0 start, both defeats coming at the hands of nationally ranked teams.
Willamette enjoyed a glimmer of optimism against their favored rivals early in the game, snatching a 7-0 lead, before Linfield responded with 42 unanswered points to win going away.
Taylor Wyman's 19-yard pass catch from Josh Dean with 5:44 left in the opening quarter put the Wildcats in the unfamiliar role of playing from behind. Undaunted, Linfield evened the score with a methodical 88-yard drive four minutes later, capping it w an 8-yard keeper by Yoder.
The Bearcats went three-and-out on their next possession and the Wildcats capitalized with Yoder's 39-yard touchdown bomb on first down to Brian Balsiger. The extra point by Josh Repp made the score 21-7 with 11 seconds left in the first quarter.
The next Willamette drive lost 11 yards and Wendall Galvan's punt gave Linfield the ball at the WU 41. Five plays later, the Wildcats were celebrating in the end zone again. Yoder swept 19 yards around left end for his second rushing touchdown, pushing the Linfield advantage to 28-7 with 5:09 left in the second quarter.
The Wildcats held a 310-130 edge in total yards at the intermission, including a 190-33 disparity in rushing. Yoder ran for 111 yards through the first two quarters while Josh Hill added 74 of his season-high 164 yards on the ground.
Leading 28-7 to start the third quarter, Yoder directed two more scoring drives to put the game out of reach. The first, a four-play, 47-yard march, ended with Yoder's 3-yard plunge. Yoder followed it up with a 4-yard touchdown dive, scripting an eight-play, 61-yard assault.
Willamette quarterback Josh Dean tossed a 47-yard strike down the left sideline to Beau Smith with 2:43 to play in the third quarter, trimming the margin to 42-15. Again, the Wildcats responded in spades with a 5-yard run by Hill through heavy traffic and a 2-yard scamper from backup quarterback Matt Yarbrough for the final points.
Hill enjoyed his best game of the season, carrying 23 times for 164 yards and one TD. The senior tailback also caught four passes for 37 yards. Hill's backup, Tavon Willis, added 46 yards on nine carries while Spencer Payne ran for 38 yards on four carries in relief of Willis.
Linfield piled up 622 yards on the WU defense, mostly on improvisational rushing plays by Yoder, who carried a game- and career-high 26 times. Willamette ended the game with 256 total yards. But with 89 yards rushing, the Bearcats became the sixth Linfield opponent to gain fewer than 100 yards on the ground.
Dean entered the game ranked seventh in NCAA Division III in total offense but was bottled up throughout the afternoon by a testy Wildcats defense. The senior completed 12 of 25 passes for a modest 167 yards, was sacked twice by linebacker Dominique Forrest, and coughed up interceptions to Ian Zarosinski and Colin Forman, each of which were followed by Linfield touchdowns. The Bearcats' leading rusher with a 56.2 per-game average, Dean left the game with minus-7 yards rushing on 10 carries. Smith caught five passes for 75 yards. Wyman gained 90 yards on 12 carries to pace the Bearcats offensively.
With seven tackles, including two sacks and several bone-jarring stops, Forrest was the game's most impactful defensive player. Cornerback Chad Coburn had six tackles while tackle Jeremy Girod was credited with two tackles for loss among his three total tackles.
'CAT SCRATCH: Saturday's attendance was 2,475 and by all accounts, the Linfield rooting section outnumbered the Willamette faithful. . . Linfield leads the all-time series with Willamette 48-35-1. . . the Wildcats have won the previous five meetings. . . Linfield extended its record NWC winning streak to 30 games. . . Willamette was the last NWC team to defeat the Wildcats, that result coming in 2008. . . Coburn amassed 114 all-purpose yards, 71 of it coming on four kickoff returns and the rest on three punt returns. . . with 622 total yards, the Wildcats surpassed the 600-yard plateau for the third time in seven games. . . Jorden Walker averaged 39.5 yards on four punts, including two that were downed inside the WU 20-yard line. . . Repp was 8 for 8 on PATs. . . the Wildcats successfully converted 9 of 15 third-down plays while the Bearcats were 3 of 15. . . Linfield's 451 rushing yards marked the second-highest single-game total in program history, coming within 43 of breaking the 21-year old standard of 493 set against Minot State (N.D.) in 1991. . . Yoder's 175 yards rushing was the second-highest ground game by a Linfield quarterback, nearly breaking Shannon Sells' 1991 record of 176.
AHEAD: Linfield returns to Maxwell Field for its final home game Saturday against the Puget Sound Loggers in the annual AT&T Hall of Fame Game. The football program will honor the graduating class of seniors with a special pregame ceremony. All veterans of U.S. military service will also be lauded during the game.