Giza Scores on 74-yard Kickoff Return; Traeger Catches 11 Passes for 81 Yards
SALEM, ORE. -- Pacific Lutheran University took advantage of three interceptions in the first half to build a 28-7 lead, and the Lutes remained in front throughout the second half, for a 35-24 win over Willamette University at McCulloch Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 26.
The Lutes, ranked #17 in the D3football.com Top 25, improved to 6-1 overall, 3-1 in the Northwest Conference. Willamette, ranked #21 in the D3football.com Top 25, fell to 5-1 on the season, 2-1 in the NWC.
Overall, PLU forced Willamette into six turnovers. The Bearcats outscored the Lutes 17-7 in the second half, but couldn't make up the halftime deficit.
PLU quarterback Dalton Ritchey rushed for three touchdowns and passed for one touchdown -- all in the first half. He finished the game 13 of 27 passing for 196 yards and one interception, while gaining 158 rushing yards on 22 carries.
For Willamette, Tyson Giza blocked a punt in the third quarter and returned a kickoff 84 yards for a touchdown in the fourth quarter.
The blocked punt was recovered by a Willamette player at the PLU 10-yard line, but the ball was knocked out of his hands as he reached the end zone.
The play was ruled a touchback for the Lutes. If it had been ruled a touchdown before the fumble, the Bearcats would have pulled with 28-16 prior to an extra point with 6:12 left in the third quarter.
WU quarterback Josh Dean (Sr., Dana Point, CA/Dana Hills HS) was 31 of 47 passing for 279 yards, two touchdowns and five interceptions. He also rushed 13 times for 38 yards.
Derek Traeger (Jr., WR, Mount Angel, OR/John F. Kennedy HS) of Willamette caught 11 passes for 81 yards and one score, while De'Zhon Grace (Fr., WR, Castro Valley, CA/Bishop O'Dowd HS) hauled in nine passes for 104 yards.
Neither team scored on its first possession, although PLU reached the WU 36 before Ritchey threw an incomplete pass on 4th-and-7.
The Bearcats lost the ball just three plays into their second drive when Dean was intercepted by Ben Kaestner at the WU 42. Kaestner returned the pickoff six yards. Seven plays later, Ritchey scored on a 2-yard run and Nick Kaylor converted the extra point kick to give the Lutes a 7-0 lead.
Willamette answered immediately with an 8-play, 65-yard drive that featured Dean completing 5 of 5 passes for 58 yards and running once for 11 yards.
On the third play of the drive, Dean hit Traeger with an 11-yard pass to the WU 47 on 3rd-and-9. On the next play, Grace caught a 26-yard pass.
Dean's run followed, providing the Bearcats with a first down at the PLU 16. Dean then completed back-to-back 9-yard passes to Traeger, with the second toss reaching the end zone with 3:47 left in the quarter. Kyle Derby (Sr., PK/P, Oakdale, CA/Oakdale HS) kicked the PAT to tie the score at 7-7.
Gregg Hibbard intercepted Dean at the Lutes' 41-yard line later in the first quarter and returned the ball 28 yards to set up a six-play scoring drive for PLU. On 4th-and-1 at the WU 19, Kelly Morgan gained 10 yards. Niko Madison rushed for two yards, before Ritchey carried the ball into the end zone on a 7-yard run. Kahler kicked the extra point.
PLU's next possession began at the WU 40 following a blocked punt that traveled just 13 yards. On the Lutes' second play, T.J. Matsumoto (Sr., ILB, Union City, CA/James Logan HS) intercepted Ritchey at the Willamette 15-yard line and ran 20 yards on the return.
The Bearcats kept the ball for seven plays and reached the PLU 41 before Dalton Darmody intercepted Dean. The Lutes took over at the WU 29 and needed 10 plays before Ritchey hit Madison with a 24-yard touchdown pass on 4th-and-17. Three plays prior to the touchdown, Ritchey recovered his own fumble in the backfield to prevent a turnover.
After holding Willamette on downs just inside Pacific Lutheran territory, the Lutes drove 52 yards on five plays with no time outs to increase their lead. The longest play of the drive was a 42-yard pass from Ritchey to Kyle Warner that ended at the WU 10. On second down at the 4-yard line, the Lutes gained three yards and had a player injured.
A 10-second run-off on the clock due to the injury stoppage, left the Lutes with two seconds. Ritchey received the snap just in time and scored on a quarterback keeper. Kaylor booted the PAT to give PLU a 28-7 lead.
Willamette played well in the second half, but a few unlucky plays prevented a comeback.
Starting at the 11:25 mark of the third quarter, the Bearcats put together a 13-play, 66-yard drive. WU achieved a 1st-and-goal at the PLU 5-yard line, but had to settle for a 22-yard field goal by Derby four plays later with 7:18 on the clock.
On the ensuing possession for Pacific Lutheran, WU limited the Lutes to three plays before Giza registered his blocked punt, which shot the ball backward from the PLU 40. The fumble by Willamette at the end of the play went out of the end zone, providing the Lutes with a big momentum swing.
Even so, the Bearcats kept PLU in check until Willamette was able to cut the lead to 28-17 early in the fourth quarter. Dean threw a touchdown pass of three yards to Austin Jones (Fr., WR, Oakdale, CA/Oakdale HS) with 12:31 left in the game. Derby converted the extra point kick.
A 50-yard run by Ritchey two plays later setup a 6-yard touchdown run for the Lutes by Madison with 10:20 on the clock. The extra point gave the Lutes a 35-17 lead.
Giza caught the ensuing kickoff at the WU 16 and dashed up the middle of the field. He broke through a group of players near the WU 45 and then outraced the Lutes to the end zone. It was his second kickoff return for a touchdown this season. He scampered 85 yards for a touchdown in the season opener against Hardin-Simmons University.
Willamette threatened to score late in the fourth quarter, as the Bearcats marched from their own 8-yard line and eventually faced 3rd-and-8 at the PLU 15. Dean was sacked by Joel Anthony for a 5-yard loss on the play. On fourth down, Dean's pass toward the sideline was picked off at the last moment by Connor Cummings with 1:13 left in the game.
The Lutes achieved 448 total yards, with 252 rushing yards and 196 passing yards. The Bearcats, despite only 22:44 in time of possession, gained 336 yards. The Bearcats threw for 279 yards and added 57 yards on the ground.
WU's defensive efforts were led by Tait Stephens (Sr., S, Sammamish, WA/Skyline HS) and Brendan Manion (Jr., OLB, Los Altos, CA/Archbishop Mitty HS) with nine tackles apiece. Wendell Galvan (Jr., CB, Bothell, WA/Bothell HS), Jack Nelson (Jr., ILB, Portland, OR/Jesuit HS) and Corey Walsh (Sr., DB, San Pedro, CA/San Pedro HS/Western New Mexico University) each earned seven tackles.
The Bearcats forced three turnovers with one interception and two fumble recoveries. The Lutes fumbled six times overall, but PLU managed to recover the ball four times.
Joel Anthony (Jr., LB) registered 11 tackles, including 3.5 tackles for losses and 3.0 quarterback sacks for Pacific Lutheran. Jordan Patterson (Sr., LB) provided 10 tackles, with nine unassisted stops.
Derby scored six points for the Bearcats with three extra points and a field goal. He is now 135 of 141 on career extra points, as he continues to extend the school record.
Willamette will host undefeated Linfield College, 6-0, on Saturday, Nov. 2 at McCulloch Stadium. Game time is set for 1:30 p.m. (PDT).