No. 7 Linfield holds off Bearcats 32-20

McMINNVILLE, Ore. (From Linfield's Kelly Bird) - David Russell scored four touchdowns and the Linfield defense came up with crucial plays at just the right moments to help the No. 7 Wildcats complete an undefeated regular season with a 32-20 Northwest Conference victory over Willamette Saturday at muddy Maxwell Field.

Linfield (9-0, 5-0 NWC) posted its second perfect regular season in three years, beating the rival Bearcats for the third straight time. The victory clinched a third straight NWC championship for Linfield, which set a school record with its 15th straight win.

Two Bearcat fumbles inside their own 20 resulted in a pair of Linfield touchdowns and the Wildcats defense stopped three drives deep in their own territory to keep the Bearcats at bay.

Willamette (6-4, 3-2 NWC) outgained Linfield 382-312 but four turnovers prevented the Bearcats from pulling off the upset.

Russell, whose four touchdowns allowed him to set the Linfield single-season touchdown record, gained 150 yards on 43 carries. Wildcats quarterback Tyler Matthews completed 8 of 10 passes for 160 yards and one touchdown.

Linfield opened with a seven-play, 77-yard march, aided by a 54-yard pass to tight end Marcus Ward. David Russell plowed over from four yards out for a quick 6-0 lead. The extra point was blocked.

Tight end Jeremy Johnson pulled the Bearcats even with 43 seconds left in the quarter, hauling in a 9-yard pass from John Brannon. Kelley Bertrand blocked the extra point, keeping the score 6-6.

Linfield went three and out and was forced to punt on its next series, but the Wildcats got the ball right back. WU's Ken Halpin muffed a punt and Zach Fleming recovered at the Bearcats 10. Three plays later, Russell scooted over from the 4. The extra point was blocked by Trebor Struble.

Four minutes later, Tyler Matthews found a streaking George Carter for a 45-yard score. Matthews connected with Josh Armstrong for a two-point conversion to make it 20-6.

Brannon scored on a quarterback keeper with 3:30 left in the half, scampering 18 yards around the left side. Brannon's two-point rushing attempt was stopped just short of the goal line and the Wildcats led 20-12.

Linfield extended its lead in the final minute of the half as Russell found an opening from the Bearcats 2. The two-point conversion pass failed and Linfield led 26-12 lead at the break. Linfield led Willamette 241-199 in total yards, including a 160-64 advantage through the air.

Bertrand recovered a Greg Reed fumble at the Bearcats 17 and Russell ran five yards around right end for his fourth touchdown of the game at 5:51 of the third.

The Bearcats moved to the Linfield 1 late in the third, but a personal foul penalty brought the ball back to the 16. Brannon was sacked on the next play by tackle Chris Riddell, then was intercepted by Phil Marr in the end zone on third down.

Following a Linfield punt, Brannon hit a wide open Brett Meyer over the middle of the field for a 59-yard score. T.K. Matthews' two-point conversion run made it 32-20 with 14:50 to play.

Willamette forced Linfield to punt again and the Bearcats marched to the Linfield 6. Facing fourth down, Aaron Johnston sacked Brannon to snuff the drive.

Willamette got the ball back with 5:01 left but Brannon was intercepted by Phil Marr down the right sideline.

Willamette went to the air against the Wildcats in the second half, keeping the game close. Meyer was the game's leading receiver with six catches for 144 yards and two TDs. Brannon completed 6 of 11 passes for 144 yards but was intercepted twice. Tyler Gaspard alternated with Brannon, completing 5 of 10 for 78 yards. Drew Ecklund rushed seven times for 70 yards.