By Brandon Chinn, Athletics Communications Writer
TACOMA, Wash. -- Ryan Knowlton (Jr., QB, Pullayup, WA/Emerald Ridge HS) passed for three touchdowns, Jimmy Sharpe (Sr., RB, Walnut Creek, CA/Northgate HS) ran for three more and the offense amassed 575 total yards, as the Willamette University football team blew out the University of Puget Sound, 63-24, in the opening game of Northwest Conference play for both teams.
The Bearcats, winners of their second consecutive game, improved to 2-2 overall (1-0 in NWC), while Puget Sound suffered its first loss of the season (2-1, 0-1 in NWC).
The Loggers drew first blood with their offense on the sideline at the end of the game's first possession. Puget Sound blocked a punt by Taylor Wyman (Sr., RB/P, Bellevue, WA/Issaquah HS), and Benjamin Martin proceeded with the scoop and score to give Puget Sound a 6-0 lead. The extra point was blocked.
Puget Sound's defense forced another WU punt on the ensuing drive, but the Loggers' possession didn't last long.
Quarterback Hans Fortune fumbled on the first play from scrimmage, giving the Bearcats the football at the UPS 5-yard line.
Sharpe logged his first touchdown of the game just two plays later on a 5-yard rush, on what turned out to be the first of many end zone appearances for Willamette. The Loggers blocked the conversion kick.
With time ticking down in the opening quarter, WU used a 7-play drive to break the 6-6 tie.
On 3rd-and-8 with the ball at the Puget Sound 38-yard line, Knowlton found Alex Israel (Sr., WR, McMinnville, OR/McMinnville HS) downfield for an 18-yard gain. Knowlton traveled the final 15 yards on a quarterback keeper just two plays later for a 12-6 lead.
Sharpe made his second trip to the end zone on a one-yard, goal line carry with 11:53 left in the second quarter, the first of four WU touchdowns in the 15-minute frame.
With an 18-6 lead and in a 4th-and-goal situation on the Puget Sound 7-yard line, Williamette Head Coach Glen Fowles opted to keep his streaking offense on the field.
The call paid off, as Knowlton connected with Jordan Fickas (Jr., WR, Gilbert, AZ/Campo Verde HS) in the end zone on a 7-yard pitch and catch.
Ben Verhoeven (Fr., WR, Redlands, CA/Redlands HS) caught hold of Knowlton's pass on the successful two-point conversion to extend the Bearcats' lead to 26-6.
Willamette's defense forced a three-and-out possession following the Knowlton touchdown pass to Frickas on the previous drive, setting the Bearcat offense up with the ball on its own 46-yard line.
Wyman was the next Bearcat to find the end zone. After rushing for 42 yards to the Loggers' 4-yard line on the fourth play from scrimmage, Wyman's name was called again on the fifth play of the drive.
Wyman didn't disappoint, smashing his way four yards ahead and across the goal line for another WU touchdown.
The Loggers add a touchdown on a 35-yard touchdown pass near the end of the second quarter with 2:46 on the clock. Fortune found Nathaniel Abernethy for the touchdown, but the Bearcats scored befroe the half ended on a 32-yard touchdown pass from Knowlton to Trevor Ramirez (Fr., WR, Fremont, CA/Calaveras HS) with two seconds on the clock. The Bearcats entered the third quarter with a 39-12 lead.
Willamette scored the first points of the fourth quarter on a 34-yard field goal from Dunford, but Puget Sound responded with a pair of touchdowns to cut the deficit to 42-24.
But as time on the third quarter clock wound down, so too did the Loggers' momentum.
The Bearcats opened the fourth quarter with a lengthy 13-play, 73 yard drive that ended with a touchdown.
Knowlton connected with Wyman out of the backfield on a 12-yard pass with 9:11 remaining to produce Willamette's seventh touchdown of the game.
Touchdown number eight came on WU's very next drive. Willamette's defense made a stand on 4th-and-5 at the WU 48, giving the Bearcats the ball near midfield.
Four plays later, Sharpe claimed his third rushing touchdown of the day with a 24-yard scamper.
Leading 56-24 with 2:39 remaining, the Bearcats offense capped off its astonishing performance. Willamette was backed up close its own goal line after stopping the Loggers at the WU 8. Jack Valencia (Sr., RB, Sammamish, WA/Skyline HS) dashed 96 yards to the end zone on his lone carry of the game, delivering the final dagger in Willamette's 63-24 victory.
Valencia's 96-yard rushing attempt was the second longest run in Willamette history behind the 98-yard touchdowon run by Dylan Jones ('15) versus Linfield College on Nov. 1, 2014.
For the Bearcats, the 63 points was their highest total in a game since the season-opener of the 2013 campaign in a 64-34 victory over Hardin-Simmons University (Texas).
The score on Saturday also was Willamette's highest point total in a Northwest Conference game since Nov. 6, 2010, when the Bearcats posted 65 points in a win over Lewis & Clark College.
Knowlton finished the day 20 for 36 passing for 196 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. He also rushed for 30 yards and a score.
In addition to his rushing touchdown, Wyman logged career-highs with 214 yards rushing and 29 carries. Sharpe gained just 35 yards on the ground, but scored three times.
Nine different receivers caught a pass for the Bearcats, including Jordan Fickas who notched three receptions for a team-high 50 yards and one touchdown.
Including the second half of Willamette's previous game at California Lutheran on Sept. 17, the Bearcats have now outscored their opponents, 84-27, over the past six quarters.
Willamette looks to keep rolilng next weekend (Oct. 8) when it hosts Pacific Lutheran University in the Bearcats' conference home-opener. Kickoff is slated for 1:00 p.m.