Willamette Forces Seven Turnovers, Offense Gains 381 Yards, as Bearcats Rout Pioneers, 61-14

SALEM, ORE. -- The Willamette University offense drove 65 yards and 70 yards for touchdowns against Lewis & Clark early in the game, then the WU defense took control, forcing seven turnovers and providing two defensive touchdowns, as the Bearcats routed the Pioneers, 61-14, in a Northwest Conference game on Saturday, Nov. 4. Willamette improved to 2-6 overall, 2-3 in the NWC. Lewis & Clark dropped to 0-8 on the season, 0-5 in the NWC.

Willamette’s home crowd at McCulloch Stadium saw WU earn the most points scored by the Bearcats in the history of the WU-L&C series. It also saw the most points tallied by the Bearcats since a 63-24 win over the University of Puget Sound during the 2002 season.

Dan King opened the scoring with a 1-yard run at the end of a 12-play, 65-yard drive following the opening kickoff. On it’s next possession, Willamette moved the ball 70 yards in just six plays, capped off by a 29-yard touchdown run by Devon Conroy. WU led 14-0 with 1:25 left in the opening quarter.

Then the defense took over. On the kickoff following Conroy’s touchdown, L&C kick returner Scott Moyer fumbled and King recovered for WU at the Pioneers’ 26-yard line. Five plays later, quarterback Kevin Whipps (Jr., Eagle, ID/Eagle HS) threw a 10-yard touchdown pass to Ryan Hernandez (Sr., FL, Portland, OR/Portland Christian HS). Matt Bicocca (Jr., PK, San Andreas, CA/Calaveras HS) converted his third extra point of the day, giving Willamette a 21-0 lead with 13:15 left in the opening half.

Lewis & Clark took over at its own 20-yard line after Bicocca recorded a touchback on the kickoff. On fourth down, the Pioneers punted, but the kick by Andrew Foot went just over 20 yards upfield, then bounced backward, nearly returning to the line of scrimmage. The end result was a 1-yard punt and the Bearcats went back on offense at the L&C 23-yard line. Backup quarterback Grant Leslie (So., Bainbridge Island, WA/Bainbridge HS) opened the drive with an 11-yard pass to Hernandez. The Bearcats stalled out with a loss of three yards, a draw play for no gain and a false start penalty, but WU still registered points with a 31-yard field goal by Bicocca at the 8:33 mark of the second period.

The Willamette defense held the Pioneers on downs and Jared Berglund booted a 43-yard punt for L&C, placing the Bearcats at their own 29-yard line. Even the poor field position didn’t slow down the ‘Cats, who scored on the first play, as Hernandez ran 71 yards to the end zone on a double reverse. The extra point kick gave the Bearcats a 31-0 lead.

WU’s margin quickly increased to 387-0, when Tyler Gill (Jr., ROV, Fresno, CA/Herbert Hoover HS) intercepted a pass three plays later and returned it 47 yards for a touchdown. The PAT kick failed, but the Bearcats were firmly in control of the game. Willamette added three more points before halftime, as Wes Randall (Sr., CB, Los Angeles, CA/Cathedral Prep HS) intercepted another pass with 1:57 left in the half to set up a field goal. Randall returned the kick 24 yards to the L&C 25-yard line. Willamette lost five yards on three plays, but Bicocca hit the longest field goal of his career, placing a 47-yarder through the uprights with plenty of room to spare. WU held a 40-0 lead the intermission.

After causing three turnovers in the first half, the Bearcats added four more takeaways in the second half. Lewis & Clark received the ball to start the second half, but the Pioneers had possession for just three plays. On fourth down at the L&C 38-yard line, Berglund faked a punt and threw a pass instead. His throw was intercepted by Matt Banta (Fr., SS, Baker City, OR/Baker HS) at the 39-yard line, where Willamette took over already on the Pioneers’ half of the field.

It took just three plays -- all carries by Skylar Swinford (Jr., RB, McCall, ID/McCall-Donnelly HS) -- to put the ball in the end zone. Swinford gained 22 yards on a pitch play to open the drive, then went for nine yards off left tackle, before carrying the ball up the middle for the final eight yards to the goal line. Bicocca added the extra point for a 47-0 lead.

Once again, L&C kept the ball for only a few plays. The Pioneers did gain a first down on the second play, when Sam Greenspan rushed for seven yards to the Lewis & Clark 33-yard line. Greenspan ran for another three yards on the next play, before Willamette’s Gill forced quarterback A.J. Brown to threw a lateral pass off target on second down. The backward pass counted as a fumble and was picked up by Jon Feld (So., DE, Vacaville, CA/Vacaville HS) of WU, who returned the ball 17 yards for a touchdown.

The dominance of Willamette’s defense continued on the next L&C series, which lasted only one play. Brown fumbled at his own 18-yard line and the Bearcats recovered the ball at the 19. King opened the WU possession with a 9-yard run, and six plays later the drive was completed with a 1-yard touchdown run by sophomore running back Cody Anthony (Vale, OR/Vale HS). Bicocca kicked the extra point, as Willamette’s lead reached 61-0 with 4:42 remaining in the third quarter.

Lewis & Clark scored twice in the final period. The first touchdown was scored by Scott Moyer on a 19-yard pass from Brown with 12:06 left. Foote converted the PAT.

The second L&C score was achieved just over three minutes later. Willamette fumbled the kickoff after the first L&C touchdown, giving the Pioneers the ball at the WU 39-yard line. Three plays later, Brown connected with Ben Elkind on a 19-yard pass that moved the Pioneers to the Willamette 12. On 4th-and-7 at the 9-yard line, Brandon Zerr-Smith scored on a pass from Brown. It was the first catch of the day for Zerr-Smith, who entered the contest with 57 catches for 468 yards. Ironically, his touchdown catch on Saturday was his first touchdown of the season.

Willamette finished the game with 381 total yards of offense, including 350 rushing yards on 53 carries. The Bearcats also completed 3 of 5 passes for 31 yards.

Hernandez led all rushers with 104 yards on just five carries. Swinford tacked on 65 yards on seven carries and King gained 46 yards on nine carries. Overall, 15 Bearcats had at least one carry, with seven players gaining at least 20 yards. Hernandez also was Willamette’s top receiver, with two catches for 21 yards. With two touchdowns -- one rushing, one receiving -- he was the only player with more than one touchdown on the day.

Bicocca also scored more than once, with his field goals from 31 and 47 yards, plus 7 of 8 on extra points. He scored 13 points for the Bearcats and is Willamette’s second leading scorer for the season with 39 points. Hernandez, with 42 points on seven touchdowns, is WU’s top scorer this season.

Quarterbacks Whipps (2 for 2) and Leslie (1 for 3) didn’t need to throw the ball very often for Willamette. Even so, they ran the offense well, ultimately giving way to freshman Brandon Whitman (Renton, WA/Charles Lindbergh HS) in the fourth quarter.

L&C gained just 62 rushing yards on 25 carries (2.5 avg.). The Pioneers also threw for 127 yards, but completed just 12 of 28 passes with four interceptions.

Ryan Osborne led the Pioneers on the ground with 18 carries fro 68 yards. Elkind was Lewis & Clark’s top receiver, with three catches for 50 yards. Moyer caught two passes for 37 yards.

Ben Fennimore (Jr., FS, Salem, OR/McKay HS) led a strong and balanced defensive effort, as he made eight total tackles. The WU defense accumulated six tackles for losses, including two quarterback sacks. Four players intercepted a pass -- Gill for a touchdown, plus Banta, Randall and Artie Atencio (So., CB, Scotts Valley, CA/Scotts Valley HS). Two players were credited with fumble recoveries -- Feld for a touchdown and King on special teams. A third fumble by L&C was recovered in a crowd of players, so no specific player was immediately credited with the recovery.

Willamette will complete its 2006 season next Saturday (Nov. 11), when the Bearcats take on Pacific Lutheran University in a Northwest Conference road game. Kickoff in Puyallup, Wash., is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. (PST). Last year, the Bearcats defeated the Lutes, 34-27, at McCulloch Stadium.