SALEM, Ore. – Quarterback Mickey Inns passed for 329 yards and tailback Josh Hill (Sr., Portland, Ore.) ran for 110 more, fueling the sixth-ranked Linfield Wildcats to a 20-10 victory over the rival Willamette Bearcats in a sloppy Northwest Conference opener for both schools Saturday at rain-soaked McCulloch Stadium.
The victory gives the two-time defending champion Wildcats (3-0, 1-0 NWC) the early upper hand in the conference title chase. The Bearcats (1-3, 0-1 NWC) saw their hopes of a NCAA playoff berth likely extinguished.
Steady rain fell throughout the game, keeping both offenses muted with ball-handling problems. The Wildcats built a 10-0 advantage in the game’s first 20 minutes, scoring first on a 2-yard touchdown run by Josh Hill (Sr., Portland, Ore.) to cap a 10-play, 78-yard drive.
Josh Kay added to the Linfield lead, booting a 35-yard field goal with 10:32 left before intermission. That culminated another long march that spanned 73 yards and 14 plays.
Linfield nearly doubled Willamette’s offensive output in the first half, 203-121 as Inns completed 8 of his 15 passes for 125 yards. The junior pivot was picked off following a tipped pass by safety Dominic David, who returned the ball inside Linfield territory. But Willamette’s drive went no where and the Bearcats were forced to punt.
The Bearcats were unable to cash in on another golden opportunity. Midway through the second quarter, Willamette moved to the Linfield 25-yard line, but Brent Shimabukuro stripped flanker Matt Williams and Christian Hanna returned the loose ball 35 yards to the WU 44. The Wildcats, though, failed to capitalize, going three-and-out and turning the ball back over to the Bearcats.
Inns led Linfield to the end zone quickly to begin the third quarter, connecting with Lucas Jepson on a 13-yard slant to cap a 63-yard march on the Wildcats’ opening possession. Kay’s extra point made it 17-0 just 2:03 into the period.
Linfield nearly put the game out of reach late in the third quarter, moving to the WU 1 but Hill fumbled in the end zone and the Bearcats took over at the 20. Three plays later, Dylan Jones scooted 20 yards for a Willamette touchdown, resulting in a 14-point swing of momentum.
Linfield’s next drive stalled and a short punt by Josh Repp (Sr., Alta Loma, Calif.) from his own end zone gave Willamette the ball at the Linfield 27. Four plays later, Mitch Rowan ignored the driving rain and pushed through a 40-yard field goal to pull Willamette to 17-10.
Needing to run the clock down, the Wildcats ate up nearly five minutes of game time with a 13-play drive that was extended three times by Willamette penalties. Kay made it a two-score game with a 24-yard field goal with 4:56 remaining.
Desperately wanting to score quickly, WU quarterback Brian Widing was sacked on second down for a 9-yard loss by Tyler Steele (Sr., Salem, Ore.) and Brynnan Hyland, then twice threw incomplete to turn the ball back to Linfield. The Wildcats attempted to run the clock out for good with Inns taking a knee on consectutive downs, but the Bearcats got the ball back on downs and moved to the Linfield 37. Widing was intercepted by Kole Krieger to end all hopes of a comeback.
Inns, who completed 20-of-37 attempts, spread around his passes to four primary receivers. Deidre Wiersma caught five passes for 110 yards and Buddy Saxon snagged four balls for 61 yards. Charlie Poppen (Jr., Oregon City, Ore.) pulled in three passes for 77 yards and Jepson came away with three catches for 33 yards.
Hill finished as the game's leading ground gainer with 110 yards on 36 carries, his second 100-yard rushing performance in three outings.
Krieger led the Wildcats with eight total tackles, including four solo stops. Tyler Robitaille (Sr., San Jose, Calif.), Drew Fisher and Mike Maierhofer (Sr., Mission Viejo, Calif.) all were credited with six tackles.
For Willamette, Jones rushed for 108 yards on only seven carries, including a 35-yard romp on the Bearcats’ lone touchdown drive. Widing was held to 81 yards passing, completing 7-of-18 throws, but he was sacked three times and intercepted once.
‘CAT SCRATCH: The Wildcats won the statistical battle, 413-316…Linfield controlled the ball for 34 minutes, running 31 more plays than the Bearcats…Willamette was penalized 12 times for 112 yards to Linfield’s five penalties for 46 yards…the Wildcats won their fourth consecutive game of the series…WU was 0-for-11 on third- and fourth-down plays…Kay successfully converted field goals of 35 and 24 yards but missed on a 39-yarder…the teams combined to put the ball on the turf 11 times…both clubs coughed up three turnovers.
AHEAD: The Wildcats return to Maxwell Field to host the Puget Sound Loggers in the annual Homecoming game Saturday at 1:30 p.m.
Mickey Inns and Josh Hill
Backfield duo combine for 429 yards of offense
Director of Sports Information
McMinnville, OR 97128