Bearcats down L&C, set up NWC title showdown with Linfield

SALEM - Willamette rushed for 377 yards and intercepted seven Lewis & Clark passes Saturday as the Bearcats defeated the Pioneers 21-14 at a muddy Ted Ogdahl Field.

With the victory, Willamette improved to 6-3 overall and 3-1 in the Northwest Conference, while L&C dropped to 3-5 and 1-3, respectively. The victory set up next Saturday's game at Linfield to be for the NWC championship. Linfield moved to 8-0 overall and 4-0 in the conference with a 35-0 whipping of visiting Whitworth.

Willamette got all of the points it needed in the first 24 minutes, and it was a good thing as torrential rains in the first half turned the turf into a second-half skating rink. WU out-gained L&C in total offense, 441-260.

The Bearcats were led by the running of senior Drew Ecklund, who became the Bearcats' all-time single-season rushing leader after his 13-carry, 134-yard performance. He now has 1,170 yards through nine games, surpassing the 1967 record of 1,138 yards held by Jim 'Tiger' Nicholson. However, on the carry Ecklund surpassed Nicholson, the former fumbled the ball at the L&C 1 after a 59-yard gain. The ball went out of the side of the end zone, resulting in a touchback.

Willamette also got a strong game from senior fullback Justin Peterson, who rushed 21 times for 108 yards. The Bearcats' 377 yards rushing almost insures them they will hold on to the national rushing lead. WU came into the game leading NCAA Division III with an average of 370.4 yards per game.

WU flanker Jeff Liepman opened the scoring on a 19-yard run with 3:56 left in the first quarter. That run capped an 8-play, 55-yard drive.

The Bearcats pushed the margin to 14-0 on their next possession when sophomore quarterback John Brannon found Ecklund all alone down the left sideline for a 56-yard touchdown.

The hosts took a 21-0 lead after Tyler Gaspard, the Bearcats' other quarterback, ran it in from the L&C 1 with 6:39 remaining in the second period.

Lewis & Clark closed the gap to 21-7 a minute later on a 4-yard quarterback keeper by Trent Thompson. That touchdown was set up by a 48-yard pass down the middle of the field from Thompson to tight end Matt Jackson.

Neither team's offense could sustain drives in the second half, largely due to the wet field. The Bearcat defense controlled the final 30 minutes by intercepting five Pioneer passes. The seven interceptions by the Bearcats tied the single-game school record set against Lewis & Clark in 1987 in Portland.

The final touchdown of the game came with 21 seconds remaining. Thompson completed an 18-yard pass to Reuban Miller, who dove headlong for the catch in the back right corner of the end zone.

Two Bearcats had a pair of interceptions. Cornerback Marcus Boards picked off two passes and returned them 45 yards. Outside linebacker Ken Halpin also had two interceptions.

Partially offsetting the Lewis & Clark interceptions, Willamette lost all five of its fumbles while L&C lost just one of six.

Ecklund also broke WU's single-season all-purpose yardage record. He now has 1,651 yards, eclipsing the mark of 1,561 set by Brett Davis in 1988.