Willamette Rally Falls Short in 30-27 Loss to Defending Champion UW-Whitewater

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

SALEM, ORE. -- Willamette University trailed by three touchdowns at halftime, but put on a solid comeback in the second half, before falling to the defending national champions from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, 30-27, in the second round of the NCAA Division III Football Playoffs, Saturday, Nov. 29 at McCulloch Stadium. WU trailed 21-0 after two quarters, but offset most of the deficit with a strong second half.

Willamette lost for the first time this season, as the Bearcats ended the year with an 11-1 record. UW-Whitewater improved to 11-1 overall, while moving on to the quarterfinals. The Warhawks will host Wartburg College on Saturday, Dec. 6. in the West Region final, with the winner advancing into the national semifinals.

Sophomore tailback Antwan Anderson led the Warhawks by rushing 34 times for 269 yards and three touchdowns. He scored twice in the first quarter on runs of 1-yard and 3-yards to give UW-Whitewater a 14-0 lead.

"UW-Whitewater was a tough team" Willamette Head Coach Mark Speckman said. "Those are big kids and their offensive line blocked very well."

The Warhawks added a 3-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Jeff Donovan to Adam Brandes with 12:48 left in the second quarter. Place-kicker Jeff Schebler kicked the extra point for a 21-0 lead.

Willamette had several scoring chances in the first half. The 'Cats turned the ball over at the UWW 26-yard line late in the first quarter. Leslie's only interception during the game -- just his third of the season -- occurred with WU at the Warhawks' 25-yard line with 8:40 left in the second period.

On WU's next possession, the Bearcats drove from their own 20 to the UWW 9. Troney Shumpert of Whitewater stopped Merben Woo (Sr., FL, Salinas, CA/North Salinas HS/Hartnell College) on a running play for no gain on fourth down.

"We didn't take advantage of our opportunities in the first half," Speckman said. He added that after the halftime break, the Bearcats "responded with tenacity."

Willamette's rally included an offensive effort that amassed 319 yards in the final two periods. WU finished the game with 509 total yards on 73 offensive plays, while Whitewater gained 505 total yards on 58 plays.

"We sped the tempo up," Speckman said. "It made it hard for them to make some adjustments."

WU quarterback Grant Leslie (Sr., Bainbridge Island, WA/Bainbridge HS) completed 16 of 24 pass during the game for 285 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. Two of his touchdown passes went to wide receiver Scott Schoettgen (So., Columbia, CA/Sonora HS). Leslie's 285 passing yards tied his career high, set against the University of Puget Sound earlier this season.

"He (Leslie) is the engine that makes our offense go," Speckman noted. "He's a great leader and has been playing football at a high level."

Schoettgen's first touchdown catch covered 82 yards and put Willamette on the scoreboard for the first time with 11:12 left in the third quarter. Schoettgen hauled in the pass near the midfield stripe, then outraced a defender down the sideline. Willamette trailed 21-7 after Mitchell Rowan (Fr., PK/P, Cotati, CA/Rancho Cotate HS) converted the extra point.

UWW reached the Willamette 35 on its next possession, before lining up in field goal formation on fourth down. Instead, Schebler took a direct snap and punted the ball. The Warhawks down the ball at the WU 4-yard line.

Two plays later, UWW recorded a safety. Willamette tailback Deon Horne (Jr., Issaquah, WA/Liberty HS) was tackled by Justin Ankley about a yard into the end zone. The two points increased Whitewater's lead to 23-7.

When Willamette got the ball back later in the third quarter, the Bearcats started a 12-play, 75-yard drive. Horne carried the ball four times for 33 yards during the drive. Leslie completed the offense attack with a 16-yard touchdown pass to senior tight end Josh Lee (Eugene, OR/Sheldon HS/Air Force Academy) on the first play of the fourth quarter.

Lee's touchdown allowed WU to cut the deficit to 23-13. Leslie's two-point conversion pass fell incomplete as Schoettgen and a defensive back made contact in the left corner of the end zone.

Whitewater countered with a 6-play, 63-yard drive that ended with Anderson's third scoring play of the day with 11:40 remaining. Anderson reached the end zone on a 9-yard carry. Schebler added the PAT for a 30-13 advantage.

Schoettgen scored for Willamette with 8:10 left on a 27-yard pass to the corner of the end zone. The pass completed a 76-yard drive. Rowan converted the extra point, as WU pulled within 30-20.

The Bearcats added another touchdown with 3:37 on the clock, with Horne scoring on a 1-yard run at the end of a quick 4-play, 70-yard possession. The big plays were a 41-yard pass from Leslie to Woo and a 25-yard run by Horne. UWW's lead was reduced to three points.

An on-side kick by Willamette was recovered by the Warhawks. UW-Whitewater kept the ball for the remainder of the game.

Anderson appeared to score three plays later from the WU 24-yard line, but a holding penalty brought the ball back to the 16. The Warhawks eventually earned a first down at the 1-yard line, then rain out the clock with one kneel down by Donovan.

UW-Whitewater rushed for 293 yards on 41 carries, led by Anderson's 269-yard individual total. Donovan went 11 of 17 passing for 212 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Brandes caught three passes for 58 yards and Jordan Wells hauled in three passes for 48 yards. Aaron Rusch added two receptions for 65 yards.

Horne led Willamette's rushers with 20 carries for 123 yards and one touchdown. Woo contributed 42 yards on 16 running plays and also caught four passes for 80 yards. Schoettgen led all receivers with seven catches for 169 yards.

Jace Rindahl led the Warhawks with 14 total tackles. Shumpert registered 10 tackles, while Matt McCulloch intercepted a pass for UWW.

Willamette's top tackler was Tommy Grove (Sr., ILB, Moccasin, CA/Sonora HS/Butte College) with 15 total stops. Arlin Taylor (So., SS, Spring Valley, CA/Steele Canyon HS) provided the 'Cats with 11 tackles, while Ryan Bettencourt (Sr., CB, Danville, CA/San Ramon Valley HS) and Jack Bevins (Sr., ILB, Park City, UT/Park City HS) made 10 tackles apiece. Bettencourt also intercepted a pass in WU end zone in the second quarter.

Although the season ended on Saturday, the Bearcats have had an outstanding year. Picked to finish fourth in the Northwest Conference in the preseason poll, the 'Cats went 6-0 in conference play and recorded WU's first undefeated regular season since 1997. Including the postseason, Willamette set school records with 498 points and 69 touchdowns.

"We had everyone come together," Schoettgen said. "It's been a really great experience."

"This senior season has been a dream come true," added Leslie, who finished the year 114 of 194 passing (58.8%) for 1,914 yards and 19 touchdowns.

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

BOX SCORE
Univ. of Wisconsin-Whitewater 30
Willamette University 27
(NCAA Playoffs - Second Round)
Josh Lee hauls in the football on a 16-yard touchdown catch against UW-Whitewater.

Josh Lee hauls in the football on a 16-yard touchdown catch against UW-Whitewater.

Jose Green, Grant Leslie and Scott Hirschberger helped WU rally in the second half.

Jose Green, Grant Leslie and Scott Hirschberger helped WU rally in the second half.

Scott Schoettgen moves down the sideline on an 82-yard TD reception.

Scott Schoettgen moves down the sideline on an 82-yard TD reception.

Antwan Anderson scored three touchdowns for UW-Whitewater.

Antwan Anderson scored three touchdowns for UW-Whitewater.

Ryan Bettencourt intercepted a pass by Jeff Donovan in the first half.

Ryan Bettencourt intercepted a pass by Jeff Donovan in the first half.

Tommy Grove (#42) earned 15 tackles versus the Warhawks. He achieved 119 tackles this season.

Tommy Grove (#42) earned 15 tackles versus the Warhawks. He achieved 119 tackles this season.