California Lutheran Rallies from 10-Point Halftime Deficit to Defeat Willamette, 26-16

THOUSAND OAKS, CALIF California Lutheran University held Willamette University scoreless over the final 30 minutes, as the Kingsmen rallied from a 16-6 halftime deficit to take a 26-16 victory over the Bearcats on Saturday, Sept. 16 at Mt. Clef Stadium. Cal Lutheran, which has won nine consecutive games and 15 of 16 dating to the 2004 season, improved to 2-0 this season. Willamette dropped to 0-3.

The Bearcats fell behind on the game’s first possession, when the Kingsmen drove 69 yards on 13 plays to claim a 3-0 lead. Connor Pearce completed the drive with a 26-yard field goal.

Willamette countered with a 14-yard touchdown pass from Kevin Whipps (Jr., QB, Eagle, ID/Eagle HS) to Ryan Hernandez (Sr., FL, Portland, OR/Portland Christian HS) with 9:51 left in the second quarter. Matt Bicocca (Jr., PK, San Andreas, CA/Calaveras HS) kicked the extra point to give WU a 7-3 advantage.

Pearce booted a 25-yard field goal at the 6:08 mark of the second period to pull CLU within a single point at 7-6. The drive setting up the field goal included a 34-yard pass from Danny Jones to Brandyn Bennett that moved the ball from the CLU 39-yard line to the Willamette 27-yard line.

On it’s next possession, Willamette drove 75 yards on just six plays to increase its lead. The drive featured a 41-yard run by Hernandez, which set up 1st-and-goal for the Bearcats at the Cal Lutheran 2-yard line. Kevin Dean (Sr., FB, Weed, CA/Weed HS) scored on a 1-yard run two plays later. Bicocca missed the extra point.

The Bearcats held CLU on downs, forcing a 50-yard punt by Ryan Cecil that put Willamette at its own 24-yad line. WU put together an 11-play, 70-yard drive that took just 1:50 and led to a 23-yard field goal by Bicocca with three seconds left in the half.

Hernandez, who rushed for 83 yards on five carries in the first half for the Bearcats, did not carry the ball in the second half due to injury. Willamette rushed for a total of 129 yards during the opening 30 minutes, but managed just four yards on 15 carries in the second half.

Willamette’s limited rushing total over the final two quarters included three sacks for negative-37 yards. Sacks are counted in the rushing statistics at the college level.

With Hernandez sidelined, Willamette gained just 67 yards of total offense on 25 plays during the second half. Cal Lutheran, which earned 188 total yards in the first half, finished the game with 406 total yards.

Pearce added two field goals in the second half, as he went 4 for 4 on field goals during the game. His 22-yarder in the third quarter, cut Willamette’s lead to 16-9. Later, after the Kingsmen tied the game on a 26-yard pass from Jones to Greg Lehman, Pearce tacked on a 37-yard field goal with 8:36 left in the game. A 29-yard punt return by Sean Coen set up the go-ahead score, as CLU took a 19-16 lead.

The Kingsmen added a 19-yard touchdown run by Jose Rojas with 53 seconds remaining to complete the scoring. The touchdown came two plays after Nathan Drakes intercepted a pass deep in Willamette territory, as the Bearcats were attempting to launch a lengthy drive.

Jones was 13 of 23 passing for 192 yards and also gained a game-high 96 yards on 10 running plays. Rojas added 69 rushing yards on 11 plays for the Kingsmen. The top pass receivers for CLU were Louis Montano, with four catches for 30 yards, and Bennett, with three catches for 65 yards.

Although he didn’t carry the ball in the second half, Hernandez nonetheless ended the game as Willamette’s leading rusher. Mike Plank (Sr., WR, Stockton, CA/Franklin HS) hauled in four passes for 71 yards and tight end Tony Davis (Jr., Boise, ID/Mountain View HS) caught two passes for 17 yards.

Chris Denton of California Lutheran led all defensive players with 10 total tackles (5 solo, 5 assists). Phil Sweet (Jr., LB, Albany, OR/West Albany HS) and Ben Fennimore (Jr., FS, Salem OR/McKay HS) each led Willamette with eight total tackles. Sweet registered four unassisted tackles and Fennimore added four solo stops.

The Bearcats will play the second game of their three-game road swing on Saturday, Sept. 23 at Menlo College in Atherton, Calif. Game time is scheduled for 12 p.m. (PDT). Menlo is in its first season as a football-only member of the Northwest Conference. It will be the first conference game of the season for both teams.