Bearcats Travel to Minnesota to Play Concordia-Moorhead in Season Opener

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

SALEM, ORE. -- The Willamette University football team has traveled halfway across the country to the State of Minnesota to play its season opener against Concordia College-Moorhead. Action between the Bearcats and the Cobbers is scheduled to start at 11 a.m. (PDT) on Saturday, Sept. 5 in Moorhead, Minn.

Willamette is ranked #8 in the D3Football.com Preseason Top 25 for the 2009 season. The Bearcats, who won the Northwest Conference title at 6-0 and finished the regular season undefeated at 10-0 in 2008, qualified for the NCAA Division III Playoffs and finished the year with an 11-1 record.

Concordia ended the 2008 season with a 6-4 overall record. Willamette defeated the Cobbers, 35-21, in last year's season opener.

Willamette enters the season with 42 returning lettermen. The Bearcats have five returning starters on offense and seven returning starters on defense.

Quarterback Ryan Whitcomb (Oak View, CA/Nordhoff HS/College of the Canyons) is set to return after missing nearly the entire 2008 season due to injury. He received a medical hardship waiver and is a junior this year.

As a sophomore in 2007, Whitcomb started five games and rushed for 677 yards and three touchdowns on 128 carries to top WU's rushing chart . He also completed 44 of 85 passes (51.8%) for 480 yards and three touchdowns. He rushed for over 100 yard four times during the season.

Tailback Deon Horne (Sr., Issaquah, WA/Liberty HS) also returns after leading the Bearcats last fall with 988 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns on 137 carries (7.2 avg.). Horne gained more than 100 yards on the ground in five games, including a career-high 132 yards on 19 carries against Whitworth University on Oct. 4, 2008.

Scott Schoettgen (Jr., Columbia, CA/Sonora HS) is the top returning pass receiver. In 2008, he provided the Bearcats with 29 receptions for 632 yards and eight touchdowns. He averaged 21.8 yards per catch.

Three starters are back in the offensive line, where they helped Willamette accumulate 4,987 total yards in 12 games last season (415.6 avg.). The line provided solid blocking that led to 251.2 rushing yards and 154.4 passing yards per game. Willamette scored 41 rushing touchdowns and added 20 more touchdowns through the air.

Scott Hirschberger (Sr., Beaverton, OR/Southridge HS), will start at center for the fourth year in a row and will anchor the offensive line. The other returning starters in the line are Luis Guerra (Jr., RG, El Cajon, CA/Steele Canyon HS) and Joe Penkala (Sr., RT, Niles, IL/Loyola Academy).

Top returning players for the Bearcats on defense include Cory Lowe (Sr., DE, Beaverton, OR/Beaverton HS) and Arlin Taylor (Jr., SS, Spring Valley, CA/Steele Canyon HS). Lowe registered 8.5 tackles for losses and 6.0 quarterback sacks on his way to 40 total tackles. Taylor made 63 tackles, forced three fumbles, recovered three fumbles, broke up seven passes and recorded two interceptions.

The Bearats have two defensive tackles who started as freshmen last season. They are Juan Alvarado (So., Stockton, CA/Franklin HS) and Ron Carter (So., Atwater, CA/Buhach Colony HS). Both showed exceptional skill and potential, as they helped Willamette force a total of 31 turnovers. Alvarado achieved 29 tackles, Carter recorded 27 tackles, and both players forced more defensive stops by sending opposing runners into Willamette's linebacking corps.

Both of Willamette's starting inside linebackers graduated, but senior Andrew Ross (Petaluma, CA/Petaluma HS) and junior transfer Ralph Pineda (Whittier, CA/Cathedral HS/San Jose State University) are ready to carry the load. Ross registered 27 tackles in 2008 and is WU's returning long snapper. Pineda played in 13 games over two seasons at San Jose State.

Outside linebacker Matt Banta (Jr., Baker City, OR/Baker HS), cornerback Blaze Rogers (So., Lahaina, HI/Lahainaluna HS) and free safety Lukkes Gilgan (Sr., Sherwood, OR/Sherwood HS) all started last year. Banta provided 60 total tackles and made 5.0 tackles for losses. Rogers was credited with 17 tackles to go with seven pass break-ups and one interception. Gilgan made 46 tackles, broke up three passes and achieved three interceptions, including two against Concordia-Moorhead.

Place-kicker/punter Mitchell Rowan (So., Cotati, CA/Rancho Cotate HS) had an outstanding freshman season for the Bearcats last year. He set Willamette records by hitting 62 of 66 extra points. Rowan also connected on 5 of 8 field goals and averaged 38.2 yards per punt. Kick return specialist Jose Green (Jr., TB, Downey, CA/Warren HS) also returns, but will likely miss the season opener due to injury.

Head Coach Mark Speckman begins his 12th season at Willamette with a 63-48 (.568) record. In 2008, he was chosen NCAA Division III Region 5 Coach of the Year by the American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) and was named West Region Coach of the Year by D3Football.com.

WU's first game at home is scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 12 against California Lutheran University. Game time at McCulloch Stadium is set for 1:30 p.m. (PDT).

The Bearcats will complete their home schedule by taking on University of La Verne (Sept. 26, 7:30 p.m.), Whitworth University (Oct. 3, 1 p.m.), Pacific Lutheran University (Oct. 17, 1:30 p.m.) and Linfield College (Oct. 24, 1:30 p.m.). WU was 5-0 at home during the regular season last year.

All of Willamette's games --- home and away -- will be available through a Live Webcast by Full Access Sports. Mike Allegre and Craig Spivey will provide the play-by-play and commentary.

Scott Schoettgen gives WU a valuable pass receiving threat. Last year, he caught 29 passes and scored eight touchdowns.

Scott Schoettgen gives WU a valuable pass receiving threat. Last year, he caught 29 passes and scored eight touchdowns.