MONMOUTH, ORE. -- Western Oregon University built a 16-0 lead in the first half of its 23-9 win over Willamette University on Saturday, Sept. 1 at McArthur Field. Even so, Willamette outscored the Wolves 9-7 in the second half and ended the game with an impressive 10-play drive for the final touchdown of the night. The non-conference season opener matched the Bearcats, who compete in NCAA Division III, against WOU, which competes in NCAA Division II.
Western took a 9-0 lead in the first quarter on a 39-yard field goal by Bruce Voges and a 1-yard touchdown run by Ben Kuenzi. Voges missed the extra point following Kuenzi's score with 3:49 left in the period.
The Wolves upped their advantage to 16-0 on a 3-yard scoring pass from Mark Thorson to Brian Buckmier at the 7:22 mark of the second quarter. Voges tacked on the extra point.
Willamette recorded its first points of the game with 4:01 remaining in the third quarter, when Matt Bicocca (Sr., PK, San Andreas, CA/Calaveras HS) blasted a 30-yard field goal to complete a 10-play, 76-yard drive. Western Oregon added an insurance score when Kuenzi reached the end zone on a 2-yard run with 6:42 left in the game. Voges converted the PAT for a 23-3 WOU lead.
On Willamette's next possession, the Bearcats gained one first down before punting. WOU then kept the ball for only three plays before a 9-yard punt gave Willamette the ball just 44 yards from the end zone.
WU back-up quarterback Ryan Whitcomb (So, QB, Oak View, CA/College of the Canyons) drove the Bearcats to the end zone over the next 10 plays. He completed the offensive surge with a 7-yard keeper for a touchdown on the final play of the game. Officials ruled that no extra point was needed since time had expired.
Western Oregon gained 388 yards of total offense, with 196 passing yards and 192 yards on the ground. The Wolves gained 238 total yards in the first half.
The top ground gainer for WOU was Kuenzi, who actually earned more yards than the rest of the team. He carried the ball 33 times for 206 yards. Western quarterback Mark Thorson was 19 of 34 passing for 196 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Sean Fullerton led the Wolves in pass receiving with nine catches for 92 yards.
Playing against an NCAA Division II team made it difficult for the WU offense, particularly in the first half. The Bearcats managed just six total yards in the first 30 minutes and finished the game with a modest 92 yards overall. Even so, the Bearcats went on a pair of 10-play scoring drives in the second half.
Whitcomb was WU's leading rusher with six carries for 34 yards. He also went 4 for 8 through the air for 39 yards. Starting quarterback Grant Leslie (Jr., Bainbridge Island, WA/Bainbridge HS) was 7 of 15 passing for 31 yards and one interception. Drew Shepherd (So., WR, Park City, UT/Park City HS) caught three passes for 20 yards, while Josh Lee (Sr., TE, Eugene, OR/Air Force Academy) hauled in two catches for 23 yards.
Kevin Whipps (Sr., WR/QB, Eagle, ID/Eagle HS) earned one pass reception for four yards in his first game at wide receiver. Whipps, the starting quarterback last year, was moved to wideout during preseason workouts.
As a team, the Bearcats gained 70 yards through the air and rushed for 22 yards on 29 carries. WU ran 52 offensive plays, while Western Oregon had the ball for 74 plays.
Willamette punter Clinton Moran (Sr., Mission Viejo, CA/Capistrano Valley HS) had a solid game for the 'Cats. He averaged 42.9 yards on nine punts, including a long punt of 60 yards. He placed three punts inside the 20-yard line. WOU punter Cory Dickson averaged 33.2 yards on six punts.
Taylor Hermes (Sr., ILB, Keizer, OR/Southern Oregon University) led Willamette's defensive efforts with 16 total tackles, including nine solo stops. Andrew Haraldson (Jr., OLB, Eureka, CA/College of the Redwoods) and Cory Lowe (So., DE, Beaverton, OR/Beaverton HS) each registered eight total tackles for the Bearcats.
For Western Oregon, Scott Buche and J.T. Gilmore each topped the defensive chart with 8 total tackles. Matt Cox added six tackles, including four tackles for losses.
The game featured two interceptions -- one for each team. WU's interception was recorded by Ben Fennimore (Sr., FS, Salem, OR/McKay HS), who caught the ball near his own goal line late in the first half and gained 15 yards on the return. Earlier in the second quarter, Zach Christopherson of Western Oregon intercepted a pass at the WU 40-yard line to set up a touchdown.
Willamette returns to action with a lengthy road trip next weekend. The Bearcats will take on Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minn., on Saturday, Sept. 8. Kickoff is set for 11 a.m. (PDT). The game will be broadcast live on the Bearcat Sports Network at www.willamette.edu/athletics/bsn/webcast/, starting with the Pre-Game Show at 10:45 a.m. (PDT).
Western Oregon University 23, Willamette University 9 - Box Score