By Robert McKinney, Athletics Communications Director
MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Willamette University trailed 21-0 at halftime, but cut the margin to seven points two times in the second half, before Rhodes College held off the Bearcats for a 35-21 win on Saturday, Sept. 3, in the season opener for both teams. WU pulled within 28-21 with 8:33 remaining, but the Lynx scored the clinching touchdown with 59 seconds left.
Taylor Wyman (Sr., RB/P, Bellevue, WA/Issaquah HS) scored two touchdowns for Willamette on a 10-yard pass reception and a 3-yard run. He also scored by catching a two-point conversion pass.
Wyman entered the game with 990 rushing yards in his career and moved past the 1,000-yard mark on his third carry. He now has 1,063 career rushing yards after finishing the game with 14 carries for 73 yards.
Rhodes built a 14-0 lead in the first quarter. The opening score was earned on the first play of a drive starting with 5:40 on the clock. Brandon Box caught a 62-yard touchdown pass from P.J. Settles. Kyle Edmiston kicked the extra point to give the Lynx a 7-0 advantage.
The second score for the Lynx was a 14-yard pass from Settles to Box with 2:59 left in the quarter. The touchdown was set up one play earlier, when Settles eluded Willamette defenders on a 54-yard run. Edmiston made the extra point.
Willamette put together its first substantial drive early in the second quarter after taking over at its own 23-yard line. A 14-yard pass interference penalty against Rhodes opened the drive. Three plays later, Knowlton hit Ben Verhoeven (Fr., WR/P, Redlands, CA/Redlands HS) with an 11-yard pass to the Rhodes 47.
The Bearcats continued the drive for eight more plays. On 4th-and-6 at the 10-yard line, a 27-yard field goal by Nathan Dunford (So., LB/PK, San Diego, CA/Mt. Carmel HS) went wide left.
Rhodes extended its advantage to 21-0 with 4:48 left in the half when Settles threw a 27-yard touchdown pass to Josh Lucas. Settles also provided the Lynx with two keys plays earlier in the drive. First, he rushed for 42 yards on 2nd-and-14 at the Rhodes 16. Later, on 4th-and-10 at the WU 42, he hit Alex Rhodes with a 15-yard pass.
Willamette had a chance to score on the final play of the half after John Dodd of Rhodes dropped a punt at the RC 30-yard line and the Bearcats recovered the ball with one second left. Knowlton threw a pass toward Trevor Ramirez (Fr., WR, Fremont, CA/Calaveras HS) on the last play, but the ball fell incomplete in front of the goal line.
On the opening drive of the second half, the Bearcats drove 54-yard in 10 plays to get on the scoreboard. The drive began after Jeremiah James (Jr./So., WR, Salem, OR/South Salem HS/Chemeketa CC) gained 42 yards while returning the second half kickoff.
Moore was Willamette's quarterback on the drive, which he finished with a 10-yard touchdown pass to Wyman. The extra point went wide left, leaving Rhodes with a 21-6 advantage.
The Bearcats cut the lead to 21-14 early in the fourth quarter at the end of an 8-play, 77-yard drive. Knowlton completed four passes on the drive, including a 38-yard scoring strike to Alex Israel (Sr., WR, McMinnville, OR/McMinnville HS).
Knowlton's other completions on the drive covered 15 yards to Jimmy Sharpe (Jr., RB, Walnut Creek, CA/Northgate HS), 18 yards to James, and 12 yards to Austin Jones (Sr., TE, Oakdale, CA/Oakdale HS) .
The Bearcats were successful on a two-point conversion following the touchdown. Knowlton tossed the conversion pass to Wyman.
Rhodes answered with a 66-yard touchdown drive that took eight plays. Settles tossed a 16-yard touchdown pass to Mason Windatt to end the drive. Edmiston's PAT gave the Lynx a 28-14 advantage.
WU drove 79 yards on nine plays to reduce the margin to a single touchdown. The scoring drive included a 20-yard pass from Knowlton to Isreal and a 46-yard run by Wyman to the Rhodes 4-yard line. Wyman ran into the end zone on 4th-and-goal from the 3-yard line with 8:33 left. Dunford kicked the extra point.
Each team had one short possession before Rhodes began its game-clinching drive. The Lynx benfited from two close plays that kept the drive going.
First, Settles released the ball just before he was hit on a 14-yard completion to Alex Richards for a first down on 3rd-and-6 from the RC 35.
Three plays later, on 3rd-and-16 at the Rhodes 43, Settles threw a pass down the middle near first-down distance. The ball bounced off a Bearcat and went 7 or 8 feet into the air. A player from each team dove for the ball, with Box making the catch for the Lynx.
Two plays later, Settles hit Xavier May with a 35-yard pass to the WU 7. Monroe McKay rushed for three yards, and then Nick Erickson scored on a 4-yard run with 59 seconds on the clock.
Rhodes finished the game with 495 total yards, after achieving 292 yards in the first half. The Lynx rushed 33 times for 172 yards. Settles completed 15 of 27 passes for 323 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions. He also rushed for 135 yards on 17 carries.
The Bearcats gained 323 total yards, with 213 yards in the second half. Knowlton was 12 of 25 passing for 161 yards and one touchdown. Moore went 11 of 17 for 79 yards and one score. Each WU quarterback threw one interception.
Isreal led the Bearcats with six catches for 109 yards. Wyman grabbed four passes for 25 yards. Box hauled in six passes for Rhodes, while gaining 160 yards and scoring two touchdowns.
Top defenders for Willamette were Rayvon Owens (Sr., CB, El Cajon, CA/Christian HS) and Jackson Lewis (So., LB, Yakima, WA/A.C. Davis HS), each with six total tackles. Nick Brickous (Sr./Jr., SS, Mesa, AZ/Perry HS/U.S. Military Acad.) and Ben Keller (Sr., DL, Honolulu, HI/University Laboratory School) each forced a fumble, while Tao Oulman (So., DB, Portland, OR/Lincoln HS) registered four tackles and recovered a fumble.
Dodd finished with 12 tackles (10 unassisted) to lead the Lynx. Cody Stockton provided Rhodes with eight tackles. The Lynx registered 9.0 tackles for loss.
Willamette will return to action on Saturday, Sept. 10 with the Bearcats' home opener against College of Idaho. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. (PDT) at McCulloch Stadium.