Willamette Rallies in Fourth Quarter, but Bearcats Fall to Puget Sound, 34-26

SALEM, ORE. -- After trailing 27-6 late in the third quarter, the Willamette University Bearcats rallied to within one touchdown and a two-point conversion before the University of Puget Sound grabbed an onside kick in the final minute to secure the Loggers’ a 34-26 victory in a Northwest Conference game, Oct. 14 at McCulloch Stadium. The win gave UPS a 4-2 overall record, including 1-2 in the NWC, while Willamette dropped to 1-5 overall, 1-2 in the conference.

Led by three rushing touchdowns by quarterback Kavin Williams in the first half and a 35-yard fumble return by cornerback Brycen Bye in the third quarter, the Loggers built their 21-point lead. The Bearcats began their comeback with an 8-yard pass from quarterback Grant Leslie (So., Bainbridge Island, WA/Bainbridge HS) to wide receiver Scott Schoettgen (Fr., Columbia, CA/Sonora HS) with four seconds left in the third quarter.

After Wes Randall (Sr., CB, Los Angeles, CA/Cathedral Prep HS) intercepted a deep pass by Williams in the Willamette end zone with 10:56 left, the Bearcats used just four plays to pull within 27-19. The drive included a 38-yard run by Ryan Hernandez (Sr., FL, Portland, OR/Portland Christian HS) from the WU 25 to the UPS 37. Following a holding penalty against Willamette on the next play, Leslie connected with Hernandez for a 47-yard touchdown pass. The extra point attempt by Matt Bicocca (Jr., PK, San Andreas, CA/Calaveras HS) was no good.

Puget Sound appeared to have the game in hand after Rory Lee scored on a 1-yard run with 2:00 left in the game. The Loggers drove 74 yards on 14 plays and took 7:11 off the clock before scoring the touchdown. Justin Dougherty kicked the extra point for a 34-19 UPS lead.

The Bearcats regained momentum when Randall returned the ensuing kickoff 56 yards to the UPS 40-yard line. Six plays later, Leslie scored on a 7-yard run with 0:46 remaining. Leslie went 2 for 3 passing and ran three times for 19 yards during the drive.

Bicocca, who kicked field goals from 28 yards and 30 yards in the first quarter and went 2 for 3 on extra points, took the onside kick for Willamette. It bounced a couple of times, then took a high bounce, before Eddie Behringer of Puget Sound grabbed the ball as it was about to reach the 10-yard mark required for Willamette to legally recover the ball. Behringer returned the kickoff 14 yards to the Willamette 30-yard line, and the Loggers ran one play to end the game.

While Willamette scored field goals on its first two possessions, UPS earned touchdowns on its first two drives, as the Loggers took a 14-6 lead with 10:32 left in the first half. Williams, who finished the game with 13 carries for 96 yards, scored the first UPS touchdown on an 8-yard run, then earned the second TD on a 1-yard run.

Later in the second quarter, defensive lineman Beau Jacobson of UPS recovered a Willamette fumble at the WU 32-yard line. The Loggers scored in six plays, with Williams crossing the goal line on a 5-yard run as the clock reached 1:52 left in the second quarter. Williams converted 4th-and-2 at the WU 24 two plays prior to the touchdown, as he threw a 16-yard pass to Silas Paul. UPS held a 21-6 lead at halftime.

UPS fumbled on the first drive of the second half, and Randall recovered the ball for WU at the Bearcats’ 47-yard line. On the third play for Willamette, starting quarterback Kevin Whipps (Jr., QB, Eagle, ID/Eagle HS) was hit and fumbled the ball, which Bye picked up and carried 35 yards into the end zone. The extra point kick by Dougherty was blocked by Randall and returned several yards by Ben Fennimore (Jr., FS, Salem, OR/McKay HS) before the PAT ended.

Willamette gained 382 yards, while UPS achieved 307 yards. The Bearcats rushed 50 times for 224 yards and completed 10 of 19 passes for 158 yards and no interceptions. Whipps was 2 of 4 for 37 yards and Leslie converted 8 of 15 passes for 121 yards and two touchdowns. Tight end Tony Davis (Jr., Boise, ID/Mountain View HS) caught three passes for 47 yards and Hernandez hauled in two passes for 62 yards. Hernandez also rushed for 116 yards on 19 carries and was the game’s leading rusher.

Puget Sound rushed for 285 yards on 49 carries, with four runners providing more than 45 yards. The 96 yards by Williams topped the UPS rushing chart, with James Olcott in second with nine carries for 70 yards. Lee gained 59 yards on 15 carries, while Paul registered 49 yards on 10 carries. Williams completed 3 of 5 passes for 29 yards and one interception.

Tyler Gill (Jr., ROV, Fresno, CA/Herbert Hoover HS) led the Bearcats with 13 total tackles. Taylor Hermes (Jr., LB, Keizer, OR/McNary HS/Southern Oregon University) and Ben Weyerhaeuser (Sr., SS, Lakewood, WA/Charles Wright Academy) each added nine total tackles for Willamette. The Loggers were led on defense by senior strong safety Kynan Pang, who recorded 13 total tackles, including 10 total tackles in the first half.

Randall provided a solid all-around night, with four total tackles, one fumble recovery, one interception and a blocked kick in his role as a cornerback. He also excelled on kickoff returns, gaining 140 yards on five returns, including the 56-yarder that set up Willamette’s final touchdown.

The Bearcats are idle next week and will return to action on Saturday, Oct. 28, at Whitworth College. Game time in Spokane, Wash., is set for 1 p.m. (PDT). Last year, Willamette edged the Pirates, 40-34 in overtime, in Spokane.