Willamette Outscores Occidental, 48-33, in First Round of NCAA Playoffs

By Robert McKinney, Athletics Communications Director, (503) 370-6110

SALEM, ORE. -- Willamette University defeated Occidental College, 48-33, in the first round of the NCAA Division III Football Playoffs on Saturday, Nov. 22 at McCulloch Stadium. Willamette was led by senior flanker Merben Woo (Salina, CA/North Salinas HS/Hartnell College), who scored three touchdowns during the game.

The Bearcats will host defending national champion the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater in a second round game on Saturday, Nov. 29. Game time at McCulloch Stadium is set for 12 p.m. (PST). UW-Whitewater defeated St. John's University (Minn.), 37-7, on Saturday, after holding a slim 9-7 lead at halftime.

Woo ended the day for Willamette with 103 rushing yards on eight carries, including a 51-yard run for a touchdown. He also caught five passes for 169 yards and two touchdowns. His touchdown catches covered 71 and 56 yards.

Deon Horne (Jr., TB, Issaquah, WA/Liberty HS) was Willamette's leading ground gainer, as he carried the ball 11 times for 125 yards and two scores. The Bearcats rushed for 245 yards on 27 carries.

Horne's 79-yard touchdown scamper with 8:04 left in the second quarter gave Willamette the lead for good at 13-9. He broke through the line, then headed straight down the middle of the field. Near the midfield stripe, he made a move to avoid a defender, before edging closer to the right hash marks and outracing several other Occidental defenders on his way to the end zone.

The Bearcats added Woo's 71-yard reception at the 4:18 mark to increase the lead. Horne added an 8-yard scoring run with 1:47 remaining in the half, allowing WU to take a 27-9 lead into the intermission.

Occidental got off to a solid start and at the end of the first period it seemed unlikely that Willamette would hold a double-digit lead at the intermission. After holding Willamette on downs to start the game, the Tigers drove 83 yards on 16 plays. Jordan Washington completed the drive by scoring on an 8-yard touchdown pass from Justin Goltz. The Tigers led 7-0 following the extra point.

Willamette missed on 4th-and-1 at its own 37-yard line on the next possession, but the Bearcats stopped Oxy on downs to regain the ball. Four plays later, WU quarterback Grant Leslie (Bainbridge Island, WA/Bainbridge HS) found Scott Schoettgen (So., WR, Columbia, CA/Sonora HS) on a 34-yard pass to reach the 24-yard line. Four more plays created a touchdown, with Schoettgen scoring on a 4-yard catch in the corner of the end zone.

The extra point attempt was blocked by Occidental. Nick Saraceni picked up the lose ball and scored a defensive PAT for a 9-6 Occidental lead with13:15 left in the half.

When Schoettgen scored, the Bearcats had just eight rushing yards on seven carries. Adjustments in blocking assignment and timing helped WU enter the locker room at halftime with 121 yards on the ground, including 107 on seven carries by Horne. Leslie ended the half 7 of 12 passing for 154 yards and two touchdowns.

Neither team scored in the third quarter, but the Bearcats and the Tigers combined for 45 points in the final period. Occidental opened the scoring barrage with a 31-yard field goal by Neil Martin at the 12:49 mark, as the Tigers pulled within 27-12. The teams alternated scores the rest of the way, with each Willamette touchdown extending the lead to 22 points and each tally by Oxy cutting the margin to 15.

The first of the alternating scores could have ended differently when Leslie passed to Woo on 3rd-and-10 at the Bearcats' 44-yard line. Leslie threw the ball toward Woo near the Oxy 47, but defender Trace Wallace stepped in front and almost had an interception. The ball bounced out of Wallace's hands and went to Woo, who juggled the ball momentarily, before heading down the sideline untouched for the score and a 34-12 lead.

Leslie was 12 of 21 passing for 248 yards and three touchdowns overall. Woo's five catches for 169 yards led the Bearcat receivers, while Schoettgen tacked on four receptions for 51 yards. The Bearcats also gained 245 rushing yards on 27 carries.

Goltz completed 35 of 50 passes for 317 yards and four touchdowns, but was intercepted twice. Both interceptions occurred in the second quarter.

Arlin Taylor (So., SS, Spring Valley, CA/Steele Canyon HS) recorded the first pick-off at the WU 7-yard line and returned it six yards just two plays before Horne's 79-yard touchdown run. Ryan Bettencourt (Sr., CB, Danville, CA/San Ramon Valley HS) grabbed the second errant throw at the Oxy 43 and returned its 20 yards with 2:28 left in the half. Horne scored two plays later.

Three players led the Occidental's receivers. Jordan Washington caught 11 passes for 87 yards and Chris Washington hauled in 11 passes for 79 yards. Jason Lehman received nine passes for 104 yards.

Occidental rushed for 109 yards on 35 carries. Jason Haller led the Tigers with 20 rushes for 68 yards. Goltz gained 41 yards on 15 carries.

Willamette gained 493 yards on 48 plays, an average of 10.3 yards per play. The Bearcats scored in less than four minutes six times, including five drives lasting 1:43 or less. Occidental amassed 426 yards on 85 offensive plays and had the ball for 37:05.

Mitchell Rowan (Fr., PK/P, Cotati, CA/Rancho Cotate HS) averaged 44.5 yards on two punts for Willamette and made 6 of 7 extra points. He is 59 of 63 on extra points this season. Rowan missed his only field goal attempt of the game, a 40-yarder in the third quarter.

Senior inside linebacker Tommy Grove (Moccasin, CA/Sonora HS/Butte College) anchored the WU defense with 16 total tackles. Jack Bevins (Sr., ILB, Park City, UT/Park City HS) followed with 13 tackles for the Bearcats, including two tackles for losses.

Junior defensive end Alex Wertheimer led Occidental with seven total tackles and three tackles for losses. Wallace and J.D. Ciasulli each recorded six tackles.

Photos included with this story are by Naomi Stukey (www.naomistukey.com), Willamette athletic photographer.

Willamette University 48
Occidental College 33
Deon Horne scored on a 79-yard run in the second quarter to give WU its first lead of the game.

Deon Horne scored on a 79-yard run in the second quarter to give WU its first lead of the game.

Scott Schoettgen caught a pass in the corner of the end zone.

Scott Schoettgen caught a pass in the corner of the end zone.

Ryan Bettencourt intercepted a pass late in the second quarter.

Ryan Bettencourt intercepted a pass late in the second quarter.

Mitchell Rowan has converted 59 of 63 extra points for the 'Cats this year.

Mitchell Rowan has converted 59 of 63 extra points for the 'Cats this year.