In another showdown between the Northwest Conference’s perennial title contenders, the Linfield Wildcats fought their way to a 20-10 victory over the Willamette Bearcats on Oct. 1 in Salem. The two teams combined for 11 fumbles, four of them lost, and two interceptions.
“It was great to play in a big conference game,” senior center Hayden Mace said. “It’s been a strange season so far with only three games in five weeks, so it’s great to be on a normal schedule.”
In a slow first half that featured only 10 points, junior tailback Josh Hill provided most of the electricity offensively for the ’Cats. On Linfield’s first series, he sprang open for a 25-yard dash that set up a two-yard touchdown run a few plays later for a 7-0 advantage. Junior kicker Josh Kay nailed a 35-yard attempt at the top of the second quarter to burgeon the lead to 10-0. Senior cornerback Christian Hanna added to the Bearcats’ misery by scooping up a fumbled ball and racing it back 35 yards to the Willamette 44-yard line.
“The offense and defense really came together,” Mace said. “The defense did their thing and the offense was able to put together drives when we needed them most.”
The scoring stalled for the remainder of the second half, although junior quarterback Mickey Inns assembled a solid half with eight of 15 completed passes for 125 yards and an interception, although it came on a tipped pass. Inns finished his first road game with stellar numbers, completing 20 of 37 passes for 329 yards and a touchdown. Juniors Lucas Jepson and Deidre Wiersma hauled in 33 and 110 yards, respectively, with senior Buddy Saxon netting 61 and sophomore Charlie Poppen grabbing 77.
“Mickey did a great job of standing in the pocket and dissecting their coverages,” Mace said. “If it weren’t for a few dropped balls, I think he would’ve had a career day.”
Inns heated up in the second half and rattled off passes of 21, 24 and 13 yards to three different receivers, the final a touchdown pass to Jepson. Down 17-0, Willamette refused to fold and began clawing their way back into the game late in the third quarter. Hill tried to bull his way into the end zone but fumbled the ball away to the Bearcats. Willamette’s unique fly offense finally clicked as tailback Dylan Jones slashed open the Wildcat defense on a 35-yard run before adding another 20-yard charge into the end zone for Willamette’s first points.
“We need to improve on the little things,” Inns said, “things like small mental mistakes and penalties.”
A short punt by junior punter Josh Repp gave the Bearcats the ball back on the 27-yard line of Linfield. The defense held strong however, with freshman corner Jeremy Patrick stuffing Jones for a loss on third down.
Willamette converted the ensuing 40-yard field goal to pull within a touchdown at 17-10. The ’Cats proceeded to eat up five of the remaining eight minutes left in the game on a scoring drive capped with another field goal from Kay, this one a chip-shot from 24 yards deep to set the final margin at 20-10.
The Wildcat defense locked down the rest of the game to preserve the win. Bearcat quarterback Brian Widing was trucked for an 8-yard loss by junior defensive tackle Tyler Steele and sophomore defensive end Brynnan Hyland, one of three sacks for the ’Cats.
“Overall, we’re happy with how the game went,” Inns said. “We’re proud of how our offense and team performed under pressure.”
The No. 06-ranked Wildcats will return to Maxwell Field on Oct. 8 for the annual homecoming game against the University of Puget Sound
Loggers. No. 05-ranked Bethel was upset last weekend, which could signal a Linfield rise in this week’s www.d3football.com Top 25 poll.
Chris Forrer/Sports Columnist
Chris Forrer can be reached at email@example.com.