By Robert McKinney, Assistant Athletics Director, Communications
SALEM, Ore. -- The 2016 Willamette University football season will remembered for the tremendous running of senior Taylor Wyman (Sr., RB, Bellevue, WA/Issaquah HS) and for outstanding defense by the Bearcats during the final four games. In addition, the Bearcats significantly improved their offensive statistics compared to 2015.
Willamette finished the season with a 3-7 record, including 2-5 in the Northwest Conference. The Bearcats rallied from a 21-0 deficit in the second quarter to defeat California Lutheran University, 28-24. WU opened NWC action with a 63-24 road victory against University of Puget Sound.
Wyman led the conference with 1,037 rushing yards and 103.7 rushing yards per game. He averaged. 5.3 yards per carry and scored seven rushing touchdowns. He gained over 100 rushing yards five times. He set career highs with 29 carries and 214 yards at Puget Sound.
During the season, Wyman contributed in other ways as well. He caught 24 passes for 182 yards and two touchdowns. He was 2 for 2 passing for 66 yards, including a 62-yard toss to Jordan Fickas (Jr., WR, Gilbert, AZ/Campo Verde HS) against Pacific Lutheran University. He punted 14 times for an average of 33.1 yards and placed four punts inside the 20-yard line.
Wyman finished his career with 2,027 rushing yards on 346 carries. He also gained 321 yards on 43 receptions. He registered 2,348 all-purpose yards at Willamette, including 1,219 yards this season.
Jack Valencia (Sr., RB, Sammamish, WA/Skyline HS) earned the second longest running play in school history when he dashed 96 yards for a touchdown against University of Puget Sound. The Bearcats rushed for a team total of 379 yards against the Loggers an gained 575 yards of total offense.
In Willamette's last four games of the season -- against Pacific University, Lewis & Clark College, Whitworth University and George Fox University -- the Bearcats allowed just 377.5 total yards per game and 198.5 passing yards per game, while holding opponents to an average of 24.2 points. Three of the four teams scored exactly 21 points.
Nick Brickous (Sr./Jr., SS, Mesa, AZ/Perry HS/U.S. Military Acad.) led the improved defensive play with 28 total tackles. Tao Oulman (So., DB, Portland, OR/Lincoln HS) added 24 tackles, Kendrick Pearson (So., CB, Pebble Beach, CA/Robert L. Stevenson HS) tacked on 23 tackles, and Nikk Ryan (Jr., DE, Oakdale, CA/Oakdale HS) recorded 21.
The Bearcats outgained their opponents in those four games, as Willamette achieved 408.0 total yards and 244.5 passing yards per contest. Ryan Knowlton (Jr., QB, Puyallup, WA/Emerald Ridge HS) completed 63.1% of his passes during the four-game swing, hitting 89 of 141 attempts for 870 yards and five touchdowns. Fickas hauled in 27 passes for 255 yards.
Combined efforts on offense and defense in the final two games of the year allowed the Bearcats to average an impressive 36:02 for time of possession, while limiting the other teams to 23:58. At the same time, WU earned 40% accuracy on third down conversions (14 of 35) and held the opponents to 26% (6 of 23).
During 2016, Willamette improved its offense statistics from the 2015 season. In conference games, the Bearcats averaged 385.0 yards of total offense after gaining 345.6 total yards per game a year ago. Willamette's rushing total reached 184.3 yards per NWC game, up from 157.9 in 2015.
For the overall season, the Bearcats increased their success through the air to 216.9 yards per game and 56.7% completions up from 198.0 yards and 52.3% accuracy in 2015. WU averaged 20.2 points per game.
Knowlton completed 180 of 330 passing for 1,832 yards and 12 touchdowns. He was successful on 57.3% of his attempts.
Fickas led the Bearcats with 45 catches for 500 yards and two touchdowns. Kevin Martz (Jr./So., WR, Salem, OR/South Salem HS/Claremont McKenna College) grabbed 36 passes for 286 yards and on score, while Jeremiah James (Jr./So., WR, Salem, OR/South Salem HS/Chemeketa CC) earned 32 catches for 406 yards and three towas touchdowns.
The leading tackler for the year was Brickous with 68 total stops, includng 44 unassisted tackles. Ryan followed with 49 tackles (33 unassisted), while leading the Bearcats with 13.5 tackles for loss. Ryan also recorded 3.5 quarterback sacks.
Oulman registerd 48 total tackles (36 unassisted). Pearson and Paimon Jaberi (Sr., ILB, Bainbridge Island, WA/Bainbridge HS) each finished with 40 tackles. Pearson recorded 33 solo tackles, while Jaberi added 25 solo stops. Mark Mulligan (Jr., DE, San Francisco, CA/Archbishop Riordan HS) topped WU with 4.0 quarterback sacks.
As a team, the Bearcats accumulative 57 tackles for losses of 183 yards and 18 quarterback sacks for 85 yards lost. Brickous, Pearson and Rayvon Owens (Sr., FS, El Cajon, CA/Christian HS) each intercepted two passes, with Brickous gaining 100 yards on interception returns.
Brickous and Ryan were named First Team All-Northwest Conference. Ryan was chosen First Team All-NWC for the second consecutive season. Wyman and Sal Lopez (Jr., OL, Chandler, AZ/Hamilton HS) received Second Team All-NWC honors. Fickas and Tyler Ropp (Sr., DL, Corvallis, OR/Santiam Christian HS) were both named Honorable Mention All-NWC.