ATHERTON, CALIF. -- Willamette University entered the fourth quarter at Menlo College with a 35-24 deficit, but the Bearcats scored the games final 17 points to end the contest with a 41-35 victory over the Oaks, in the Northwest Conference opener for both teams. Willamette won for the first time this season to improve to 1-3, 1-0 in the NWC. Menlo, playing its first-ever Northwest Conference game, fell to 2-2, 0-1 in the NWC.
Kevin Dean (Sr., FB, Weed, CA/Weed HS) scored Willamettes first three touchdowns to keep the Bearcats competitive in the high-scoring game. He also led all players with 164 yards on 11 carries. Dean crossed the goal line on runs of 34 and 21 yards in the first half, then added a 29-yard touchdown run with 11:15 left in the third quarter to give the Bearcats their first lead of the game, 24-21.
Menlo tacked on the next two scores on a 1-yard run by quarterback Gregg Parker and a 50-yard punt return by Jihad Mahasin. The Oaks led 35-24 with 6:39 left in the third quarter and remained in front by the same score when Willamette began a drive with 14:45 remaining.
The Bearcats earned two touchdowns and a field goal the rest of the way. Mike Plank (Sr., WR, Stockton, CA/Franklin HS) started the comeback on a 67-yard touchdown catch from quarterback Kevin Whipps (So., Eagle, ID/Eagle HS) with 12:27 remaining. The Bearcats covered 87 yards on just four plays during the drive, which also featured a 17-yard catch by Plank. Whipps threw an incomplete pass on the two-point conversion attempt, leaving Menlos lead at 35-30.
Planks lengthy touchdown reception was Willamettes longest play so far this season. He caught five passes for 103 yards against the Oaks and was the games top receiver. Plank is WUs leading receiver on the season, with 18 catches for 288 yards.
Following a 51-yard kickoff return by Mahasin on the ensuing kickoff, Menlo had the ball at the Willamette 39-yard line. The Bearcat defense limited the Oaks to just four plays -- a one-yard run, two pass completions and a sack. The 10-yard sack of quarterback Gregg Parker by Taylor Hermes (Jr., LB, Keizer, OR/McNary HS/Southern Oregon University) on fourth down gave Willamette the ball 55 yards from the end zone with 9:50 on the clock.
The Bearcats used seven plays to achieve the go-ahead score. The drive opened with back-to-back carries by running back C.J. Washington (Jr., Spokane, WA/Shadle Park HS) for nine yards and 15 yards. Josh Barker (Sr., FL/CB, Rocklin, CA/Rocklin HS), who also played on defense, rushed for four yards on the next play. Two incomplete passes followed, but Menlo was called for defensive holding on the second throw, giving WU a first down at the Menlo 17-yard line.
Washington and Barker each produced a 4-yard carry to set up 3rd-and-2 at the nine. Jarvis Tanguary (Jr., FL, Eugene, OR/Sheldon HS) reached the end zone on the next play, putting Willamette into the lead at 36-35 with 7:55 left. Whipps hits Plank with a two-point conversion pass, as the lead increased to 38-35.
Two offensive plays later, Parker fumbled as he was sacked by Hermes. Rah-Ben Coates (Sr., DE, Los Angeles, CA/Westchester HS) recovered the ball for the Bearcats at the Menlo 30-yard line.
Dean took the ball on first down and went 10 yards upfield. The next three plays netted just four yards, setting up a 33-yard field goal by Matt Bicocca (Jr., PK, San Andreas, CA/Calaveras HS) with 4:43 remaining. Bicoccas kick, his second field goal of the day, gave Willamette its 41-35 final margin.
Mahasin had already hurt the Willamette special teams with his kickoff and punt returns, so WU chose to kick the ball short on its last kickoff. Aaron Lewis hauled in the kick at the Menlo 25-yard line and was limited to seven yards on the return.
Tyler Gill (Jr., ROV, Fresno, CA/Herbert Hoover HS) sacked Parker for a 7-yard loss on the first play. Parker ran for eight yards on second down, but threw an incomplete pass on third down. Following a time-out, Parker was sacked by Ryan Bettencourt (So., SS, Danville, CA/San Ramon Valley HS) and Mike Reeves (So., DE, Corvallis, OR/Corvallis HS/University of Montana) on fourth down.
Willamette took over at the Menlo 26-yard line, but gained just three yards on the first three plays. On fourth down, Whipps was sacked by Larnell Ransom at the MC 23, but the Bearcats possession had reduced the game clock to 31 seconds.
Parker rushed for seven yards on the next play, then threw an incomplete pass. On the games final play, Parker threw deep and was intercepted by Wesley Randall at the Willamette 30-yard line.
Earlier in the game, Parker was difficult to stop. In the first half, he completed 5 of 11 passes for 104 yards and a touchdown, while running six times for 47 yards and another score. Menlo held a 21-17 advantage at the break.
At the end of the third quarter, Parker was 8 of 14 for 170 yards and just one sack. During the final period, he was sacked four times and intercepted once, while completing only 1 of 6 passes. Overall, Parker went 9 of 20 for 173 yards.
Whipps completed 10 of 21 passes for 171 yards and one touchdown. After throwing a total of five interceptions in Willamettes first three games, Whipps did not turn the ball over against the Oaks. Planks five catches were followed by two receptions for 37 yards by Tanquary.
Dean provided most of Willamettes 271 rushing yards. Washington added 68 yards on 20 carries and Tanquary picked up 25 yards on four carries. Drew Faria led Menlo with seven rushes for 30 yards.
The Willamette offense, which committed 10 turnovers in the first three games, had no turnovers versus Menlo. The Oaks finished the game with one lost fumble and one interception. Willamette outgained Menlo, 442-309 in total offense.
Menlo scored touchdowns on its first three possessions of the game -- a 23-yard pass from Parker to Kyle Mosby, a 21-yard run by Parker and a 3-yard run by Faria. The Oaks scored just two more times on their final 10 possessions, although one began in the final minute of the first half.
Leading Willamettes defense was Hermes, with seven solo tackles. He registered two sacks for 22 yards in losses, forced a fumble, and broke-up a pass. Ben Weyerhaeuser (Sr., SS, Eatonville, CA/Charles Wright Academy) added six solo tackles. Menlos defense was paced by Ransom, who registered six solo tackles and two assists to lead all players with eight total tackles. Ransom had two sacks and a total of three tackles behind the line of scrimmage.
Willamette completes its three-game road trip on Saturday, Sept. 30 at Northwest Conference rival Linfield College. Game time in McMinnville, Ore. is set for 1:30 p.m. (PDT). Last year, Willamette finished 3-1 in the NWC, as the Bearcats took second place behind the Wildcats.