SALEM, ORE. -- Willamette University place-kicker Matt Bicocca (Sr, San Andreas, CA/Calaveras HS) connected on a 42-yard field goal with four seconds remaining to send the Bearcats to a 33-32 victory over arch rival Linfield College, in the Northwest Conference opener for both teams, Saturday, Sept. 29 at McCulloch Stadium. Linfield, ranked #12 in NCAA Division III (D3Football.com), fell to 1-2 on the season, 0-1 in the NWC. Willamette improved to 2-3 overall, 1-0 in the NWC.
Linfield place-kicker Scott Birkhofer kicked a 31-yard field goal with 2:32 left in the game, giving the Wildcats a 32-30 advantage. After the ensuing kickoff, Willamette took over at its own 36-yard line.
The Bearcats drove 39 yards on eight plays, including a 27-yard pass from Ryan Whitcomb (So., QB, Oak View, CA/College of the Canyons) to Drew Shepherd (So., WR, Park City, UT/Park City HS) on 4th-and-5 at the WU 41. Later, on 3rd-and-16 at the Linfield 38, Whitcomb kept the ball for a 13-yard gain, setting up Bicocca's field goal on the next play.
Bicocca is now 4 of 6 on field goals this year. He has converted 17 of 23 field goals (73.9%) since the start of the 2005 season.
His winning kick against Linfield was WU's third score in the final 10 seconds of games this season. Whitcomb scored on a 7-yard run on the final play against Western Oregon University and Leslie reached the end zone on a 10-yard run with 10 seconds left versus Gustavus Adolphus College.
Linfield surged out to a 19-0 lead in the first half. The Wildcats put the game's first points on the scoreboard with 9:23 left in the first quarter on a 43-yard pass from Trevor Scharer to Travis Masters. The touchdown came on the first play after a Willamette fumble. Birkhofer kicked the extra point.
Later in the opening quarter, Linfield extended the lead to 13-0. After taking over at the Linfield 49 following a short punt by the Bearcats, the Wildcats wasted little time, as Tyler Kaluza hauled in a 43-yard touchdown pass from Scharer on the second play. Birkhofer missed the extra point kick.
Willamette picked up a first down on its next possession. Shepherd caught a 21-yard pass from Grant Leslie (Jr., QB, Bainbridge Island, WA/Bainbridge HS) to move the ball to the WU 49. The Bearcats were forced to punt four plays later.
The Wildcats received a touchback when the punt by Clinton Moran (Sr., Mission Viejo, CA/Capistrano Valley HS) went 45 yards and into the end zone. Linfield needed just one play to score its third touchdown, as Scharer completed an 80-yard pass to Masters. Birkhofer tried to score a two-point conversion on a fake kick, but was stopped short of the goal line.
WU rallied with three scores of its own before halftime. First, the Bearcats drove 68 yards on nine plays, with C.J. Washington (Sr., RB, Spokane, WA/Shadle Park HS) scoring on a 2-yard run with 9:04 remaining in the second quarter. After stopping the Wildcats and forcing a punt, the Bearcats used just two plays for their second touchdown. Whitcomb ran the ball on both plays, including a 65-yard scamper for the score.
On Linfield's next possession, the Wildcats drove into Willamette territory, but Scharer threw an incomplete pass on 4th-and-2 at the WU 36. The Bearcats scored on the next play, as Leslie connected with Merben Woo (Jr., FL, Salinas, CA/Hartnell JC) for a 64-yard touchdown pass. Whitcomb was stopped on a two-point conversion run, but WU led 20-19 with 1:24 left in the half.
The Wildcats drove 54 yards on nine plays to set up a field goal attempt at the end of the half. Birkhofer made a successful kick from 38 yards as the buzzer sounded, giving Linfield a 22-20 halftime lead.
A 45-yard kickoff return by Pete Cruickshank gave LC the ball at Willamette's 23-yard line to start the third quarter. Drew Ragan rushed for 20 yards on the opening play, then carried again on 1st-and-Goal at the WU 3. Ragan fumbled at the one-yard line and Arlin Taylor (Fr., CB, Spring Valley, CA/Steele Canyon HS) recovered the ball in the end zone for Willamette. Taylor returned the ball 14 yards.
Phil Sweet (Sr., ILB, Albany, OR/West Albany HS) of Willamette intercepted a Scharer pass on Linfield's next possession to give WU the ball near midfield. Leslie was intercepted by Linfield's Keone Tawata on the ensuing play, with Tawata adding a 38-yard return to give LC the ball at the WU 39. Leslie received a knee injury on the play and did not return to action.
Linfield turned the interception into points five plays later on a 14-yard pass from Scharer to Cruickshank. Birkhofer's kick on the PAT increased the Wildcats' lead to 29-20.
The Bearcats answered with a 7-play, 48-yard drive that ended with a 25-yard field goal by Bicocca. The field goal cut Linfield's lead to 29-23.
Following the kickoff, Scharer fumbled as he was being sacked by Marcus Ford (Jr., DE, Marina, CA/Monterey JC) and Chris Mulitalo (Sr., DT, San Leandro, CA/Arroyo HS) recovered the ball for WU at the Linfield 28-yard line.
Whitcomb, who already played significant minutes while sharing the quarterbacking duties with Leslie, led the offense the rest of the way. He guided the Bearcats on a 10-play drive to take the lead following Scharer's fumble. Washington completed the drive with a 1-yard touchdown run at the 13:23 mark of the fourth quarter. Bicocca kicked the extra point for a 30-29 advantage.
Neither team scored again until the closing minutes. Linfield's go-ahead field goal by Birkhofer at the 2:32 mark finished a sustained drive that lasted 4:15 and covered 83 yards on 13 plays. WU answered with an eight-play drive to set up the winning field goal by Bicocca.
Linfield gained 406 yards of total offense, while Willamette accumulated 391 total yards. The Bearcats had a balanced attack, with 204 yards on the ground and 187 yards through the air.
Whitcomb led all rushers with 23 carries for 127 yards and one touchdown. He was 3 of 7 passing for 38 yards. Leslie converted 5 of 10 passes for 132 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
Cody Anthony (Jr., RB, Vale, OR/Vale HS) provided 39 yards on two carries, including a 36-yard run. Washington, gaining tough yards up the middle, finished with 32 yards and two touchdowns on 17 carries.
Woo caught three passes for 87 yards and one TD for the Bearcats. Shepherd contributed three catches for 55 yards.
Scharer provided most of Linfield's offense with 23 completions on 40 attempts for 350 yards and four touchdowns. He threw eight passes to Josh Vierra for 83 yards and completed three passes to Masters for 128 yards and two TDs.
WU limited the Wildcats to just 56 rushing yards on 23 carries, an average of 2.4 yards per rush. Ragan finished the game with 11 carries for 37 yards.
Both punters earned solid averages. Stan Fisher of Linfield gained 47.0 yards per punt. Moran overcame the one short punt of 19 yards to average 40.8 yards overall. Moran's longest punt covered 67 yards to the Linfield 2-yard line.
Special teams play also included strong punt and kick returns. Jose Green (Fr., RB, Downey, CA/Warren HS) achieved 95 yards on six kickoff returns for WU and also gained 12 yards on one punt return. For Linfield, Vierra provided 31 yards on two punt returns, while Cruickshank finished with 70 yards on two kickoff returns.
Taylor Hermes (Sr., ILB, Keizer, OR/Southern Oregon University) led the Willamette defense with nine tackles. Sweet added six tackles to go with one interception. Alex Tkachuk recorded 15 tackles for Linfield, while Tawata provided the Wildcats with 12 tackles.
Willamette is idle on Saturday, Oct. 6. The Bearcats will return to action on Saturday, Oct. 13, at the University of Puget Sound. Game time at Baker Stadium is scheduled for 1:30 p.m.
Willamette University 33, Linfield College 32 - Box Score