By Robert McKinney, Assistant Athletics Director, Communications
SALEM, Ore. -- Linfield College outscored Willamette University 24-0 in the second half and finished the game with 331 rushing yards, as the 7th-ranked Wildcats defeated the Bearcats, 55-14, on Saturday, Oct. 7 at McCulloch Stadium. Willamette trailed the Wildcats by a slim 14-7 margin after the first period, but Linfield took a 31-14 lead into the halftime break.
With the win, Linfield upped its record to 3-1 on the season, including 2-0 in the Northwest Conference. The Wildcats are ranked #7 in the nation in the D3football.com Top 25 Poll. Linfield is ranked #11 in the NCAA Divisoin III Coaches Poll released by the American Football Coaches Association (AFCA). Willamette fell to 0-4 overall, 0-2 in the NWC.
Chidubem Nnoli rushed for 197 yards on 13 carries for Linfield. He scored two touchdowns in the first half on runs of 43 and 58 yards, and then added a 36-yard touchdown run in the third quarter. Linfeld starting quarterback Troy Fowler completed 11 of 18 passes for 170 yards and two touchdowns.
Linfield scored on the first possesion of the game with an 8-play, 76-yard drive that took 3:34 off the clock and ended with Nnoli's 43-yard run up the mdidle. Willy Warne kicked the extra point.
Tight end Garrett Keizur (So., West Linn, OR/West Linn HS) of Willamette scored on a 34-yard pass from Ryan Knowlton (Sr., QB/P, Puyallup, WA/Emerald Ridge HS) to tie the game at 7-7 with 9:19 left in the first quarter. The drive took just four plays after a 45-yard kickoff return by Joey Thurman (Sr., RB, Carson City, NV/Carson HS) put the ball at the Linfield 42. The first three plays gained a total of eight yards, with Keizer catching the touchdown pass on 4th-and-2.
Knowlton started at quarterback for Willamette because Mathew Castaneda (So., QB, Salinas, CA/Salinas HS) was out with an injury. Knowlton was 8 of 16 passing for 120 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. He also rushed for 29 yards on eight carries.
The Wildcats added a 21-yard pass from Fowler to Tyler Torgerson with 1:33 remaining in the opening quarter to complete an 8-play, 72-yard drive. Linfield increased its lead to 21-7 with 5:44 left in the second quarter when Nnoli scampered 58 yards to the end zone. The touchdown was scored on the first play following a 31-yard punt by the Bearcats from their own 26-yard line. Three plays into Willamette's next possession, Farlow of Linfield intercepted a pass and returned it 35 yards to the end zone. Warne's kick gave the Wildcats a 28-7 margin.
Willamette's second touchdown was scored by Jordan Fickas (Sr., WR, Gilbert, AZ/Campo Verde HS) on a 3-yard pass from Ryan Knowlton to pull WU within 28-14 with 1:14 to go in the half. Keizur provided the key play of the drive when he put together a 55-yard catch-and-run on a pass from Knowlton to move the ball to the Linfield 5-yard line. Fickas scored two plays later. Benjamin Jahn (Sr./Jr., DL, Juneau, AK/Thunder Mountain HS) kicked his second extra point of the game.
Linfield tacked on a 33-yard field goal by Warne with six seconds left in the first half, and then added a 20-yard touchdown pass from Fowler to J.D. Lasswell with 11:11 left in the third quarter, as the Widlcats' lead increased to 38-14. The touchdown drive last just thee plays following a 42-yard punt return by Andrew Schweiterman.
Warne kicked a 25-yard field just at the 8:01 mark in the third quarter to give Linfield a 41-14 advantage when Willamette's defense stopped the Wildcats following an interception. Wade Ranson picked off Knowlton's pass and returned it 54 yards to the WU 15-yard line, but the Bearcats allowed just seven yards on the next three plays to force the field goal by Warne.
Linfield finished the game with 584 yards of total offense. The Wildcts also amassed 23 first downs. Nnoli led the running game with his 197 yards, while Lasswell topped the Linfield receivers with four catches for 92 yards. Torgerson hauled in three passes for 35 yards.
Keizur gained 89 yards on two catches for Willamette. Alex Israel (Sr., WR, McMinnville, OR/McMinnville HS) earned three catches for 31 yards for the Bearcats, while Fickas hauled in three passes for 18 yards. Willamette's offense recorded 163 passing yards and 246 total yards.
Bearcat return specialist Jeremiah James (Sr./Jr., Salem, OR/South Salem HS/Chemeketa CC) brought back five kickoffs for a total of 162 yards (32.4 avg.). Thurman returned two kickoffs for 62 yards (31.0 avg.). For the season, James is averaging 29.2 yards per kickoff return, while Thurman is averaging 26.6 yards.
"Jeremiah James and Joey Thurman were impressive in the return game," Willamette Head Coach Glen Fowles said.
On defense, Linfield's Jason Farlow recorded 13 total tackles, including one tackle for loss. He also forced a fumble and returned an interception 35 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter. He had 12 of his tackles in the first half and saw limited action in the third quarter.
For Willamette, Alec Stevenson (So., ILB, Malibu, CA/Calabasas HS) earned 14 tackles, including 11 unassisted tops. He also registered one quarterback hurry.
"Stevenson had another good game," Fowles commented. "He is consistently playing at a high level.
Also on defense for the Bearcats, Kendrick Pearson (Jr., DB, Pebble Beach, CA/Robert L. Stevenson HS) broke up one pass and provided five solo tackles on his way to seven tackles overall. Tommy MacDevitt (So., OLB, Santa Clara, CA/Saint Francis HS) and Ikaika Hall (Sr., DB, San Francisco, CA/St. Ignatius College Prep) each contribute five tackles. MacDevitt also forced a fumble and recovered the ball in the first quarter.
Willamette will play at George Fox University on Saturday, Oct. 14. Kickoff is slated for 1 p.m. (PDT) in Newberg, Oregon.