COMING UP: Pacific Lutheran will try to put a crimp in unbeaten Willamette's aspirations of a Northwest Conference title, while at the same time keeping itself in the title hunt, when the teams face each other starting at 12:30 p.m. Saturday at Sparks Stadium in Puyallup. Willamette, 6-0 overall, comes into the contest tied with Linfield for first place in the conference standings, both with 2-0 records. Pacific Lutheran is in third place with a 2-1 NWC mark, and it is 3-2 overall in 2012.
FOLLOW THE LUTES: You can listen to PLU football action throughout the year in the Tacoma area on KLAY 1180 AM with Steve Thomas and Karl Hoseth calling the action. The broadcasts are also available online on the KLAY website (www.klay1180.com). Additionally, listeners can access the PLU football broadcasts on the PLU athletics website at www.golutes.com, then clicking on Listen Live and following the link. Pacific University streams video and that can be accessed at http://client.stretchinternet.com/client/pacific.portal#.
SERIES HISTORY: The Lutes and Bearcats have met 42 times in the series history dating back to the 1966 season. The Lutes hold the overall series lead at 24-16-2. The two longest winning streaks in the series belong to PLU, which registered six-game winning streaks from 1970-75 and again from 1979-84. Willamette's longest winning streak is four games from 2002-05. Since Scott Westering took over the Pacific Lutheran football program from his father, Frosty Westering, the teams have split eight games.
LAST YEAR: Pacific Lutheran had a strong defensive effort at McCulloch Stadium, holding Willamette to just two field goals as the Lutes defeated the Bearcats, 13-6, in the season finale for both teams played Nov. 12, 2011. The Lutes clung to a 7-6 lead in the fourth quarter before turning a short pass into the game's longest play to score a touchdown with 9:11 remaining. Kyle Warner took a screen from Zack Halverson and went 63 yards for the game-clinching score. Pacific Lutheran scored on its first possession, driving 85 yards on 14 plays to score the game's first touchdown. The drive included a 26-yard pass from Halverson to Warner on 3rd-and-13 from the Lutes' 12-yard line, and also featured 19-yard passes to Warner and Tyler Bowen. Halverson completed the drive with a 1-yard run with 3:45 left in the first quarter. The Bearcats gradually reduced the PLU lead as Kyle Derby kicked a 28-yard field goal with two seconds left in the first half and added a 19-yard field goal with 9:03 remaining in the third quarter. On its final possession of the game, Willamette drove from its own 22-yard line to the PLU 48 before back-to-back sacks by seniors Erik Magnussen and T.J. Suek ended the threat. In his final collegiate game, Halverson completed 17-of-25 passes for 242 yards and one touchdown. Warner led the Lutes with eight receptions for 156 yards. Brandon James was PLU's top ground gainer with 13 carries for 55 yards. The Lutes gained 321 yards in total offense compared to 309 yards for the Bearcats. Senior linebacker Adam Schwander led the Lutes with 10 tackles, including seven unassisted, and senior Justin Whitman added eight tackles.
SCOUTING THE BEARCATS: This year's version of the Willamette Bearcats is not the one that you grew up with. Here is what we mean. Think of the Willamette football offense and what comes to mind, at least since the mid 1990s, is the run-oriented Fly offense. With a flanker coming in motion through the backfield on every play, deception and speed combined with power running up the middle gave the Bearcats one of the best running games in small college football. While the 2012 Bearcats pile up the points and yardage like past Willamette teams - they enter Saturday's game with one of Division III's most prolific offenses with averages of 44.8 points and 561.3 yards per game - it is an offense that get down the field and into the end zone in a very different manner. The Bearcats average 392.2 passing yards per game, with junior quarterback Josh Dean ranked second in total passing yards (2,234 yards) and first in total offense per game (385.0 average) and pass completions per game (29.67). Dean is 178-for-259 (68.7 percent) for 2,234 yards with 27 touchdowns and seven interceptions through the first six games. That is an average of 4.5 touchdown passes per game. Wide receiver Jake Knecht has 41 receptions for 557 yards and 10 touchdowns (ranking him among the national scoring leaders), wide receiver Jake Turner has 32 catches for 534 yards and four TDs, and tight end Benny Weischedel has 31 receptions for 507 yards and five touchdowns. Reserve running back Mike Hernandez has only 10 receptions for 62 yards, but five of his catches have gone for touchdowns. By the way, the Willamette rushing attack might not be featured, but it is nonetheless solid with Dylan Jones averaging 100.5 yards per game with four touchdowns. Willamette has been very effective in third-down conversions with a 53 percent success rate, and it has scored at least 51 points in three of its six games. All of that stated, expect to see the football in the air a lot on Saturday. Defensively, Willamette is led by inside linebacker Jack Nelson, the reigning NWC Defensive Player of the Week after a 19-tackle performance against Lewis & Clark. He has a ttal of 47 tackles this season. Outside linebacker Cullen Carroll has 46 total tackles including nine tackles for loss and 3.5 quarterback sacks, while defensive end Ben Lyons leads the Bearcats with 6.5 quarterback sacks among his 33 tackles. Safeties Cody Pastorino and Dominic David both have four of Willamette's 14 total interceptions.
LUTE NOTES: Pacific Lutheran averages 29.4 points and 403.2 yards of offense while allowing 23.8 points and 339.8 yards per contest. The Lutes rely heavily on the passing attack spearheaded by sophomore quarterback Dalton Ritchey, who is 104-for-168 (61.9 percent) this season for 1,453 yards with nine touchdowns and four interceptions. Sophomore wide receiver Kyle Warner has become his favorite target with 34 receptions for 607 yards (17.9 yards per receptions) and three touchdowns. In fact, PLU's top four receivers are all sophomores, just like their quarterback. Wide receiver Kellen Westering has 26 catches for 433 yards and three TDs, slotback Daniel Herr has 17 receptions for 157 yards, and tight end Lucas Sontra has 10 grabs for 99 yards and a score. Senior Brandon James leads the ground game with an average of 67.8 yards per game, and he has scored four TDs on the ground in addition to another receiving. The Lutes are going to have to improve in third-down conversions as they are just 22-for-63 (35 percent) in that category, including 0-for-8 in last week's win at Pacific. The PLU defense is opportunistic, to say the least, with 12 interceptions and eight fumble recoveries through the first five games. That is an average of four takeaways per contest, which ranks in a tie for 15th in Division III football. The Lutes are eighth in the nation in turnover margin with 20 takeaways and 10 turnovers. Sophomore safety Greg Hibbard leads the Lute with 32 total tackles and he has an interception. Senior linebacker Jordan Batterson has 4.5 tackles for loss among his 30 total tackles, as does junior defensive lineman Mychael Tuiasosopo among his 27 stops. Tui has a "pick six" to his credit as well. Junior safety Sean McFadden has 23 tackles and junior linebacker Ben Kaestner leads the Lutes with 6.5 tackles for loss, and he is tied with sophomore defensive end Doug Sullivan with three quarterback sacks.
ABOUT THE COACHES: Scott Westering is in his ninth year as head coach at Pacific Lutheran, where he has compiled a 42-34 overall record. Scott joined the PLU coaching staff in 1981 after playing tight end for the Lutes under his father, Frosty Westering. Scott served as the Lutes' offensive coordinator from 1983-2003, helping PLU to two NAIA Division II and one NCAA Division III national championships, as well as four runner-up finishes. He has coached 11 first-team All-Americans, including the 1999 NCAA Division III Player of the Year, Chad Johnson. Scott was a captain and All-American tight end on the 1980 PLU team that won the Lutes' first NAIA national championship. He was inducted into the PLU Hall of Fame in 1998. Glen Fowles is in his first season as the head coach of the Bearcats, but he is not new to the Willamette football program. This is his 17th season on the coaching staff. Fowles previously was Willamette's assistant head coach, offensive coordinator (14 years) and offensive line coach. He also has served as the team's strength and conditioning coordinator.
LAST WEEK: Pacific Lutheran took a 28-2 lead into the fourth quarter and added two late touchdowns as a knockout punch to beat the Pacific Boxers, 41-23, in a Northwest Conference football game played last Saturday at Lincoln Park Stadium in Forest Grove, Ore. PLU scored four of its touchdowns on running plays, another on a pass, and the final one when nose tackle Mychael Tuiasosopo intercepted a pass and returned it 22 yards for PLU's final touchdown with 2:36 remaining in the game. Brandon James capped a seven-play, 75-yard drive by scoring on a 2-yard run with 45 seconds left in the first quarter to get the Lutes on the board. James scored the second touchdown on a 1-yard pass from Dalton Ritchey, finishing off a nine-play, 58-yard drive, but failed conversions after those scores kept the score at 12-0. Pacific Lutheran's third consecutive sustained drive, this one a six-play, 62-yard journey, ended with Niko Madison's 4-yard run. One of the Boxers' few first half highlights came on the PAT when the kick was blocked and returned for a two-point scored by Craig Bailey. The Lutes took their 18-2 lead into the third period and added a 22-yard field goal by Nick Kaylor and a 1-yard touchdown run by Dalton Ritchey, making the score 28-2. Pacific tallied back-to-back touchdowns on a pair of 6-yard scoring passes by P.J. Minaya, the second coming after a successful onside kick recovery. The next onside kick was recovered by PLU's Connor Cummings, and the Lutes proceeded to drive 46 yards on eight plays with Cody Pohren crashing into the end zone from the 3-yard line. That made the score 35-16, but it stayed that way for only one play after the ensuing kickoff because Tuiasosopo was in the right place to pick off a Minaya and take it to the house. The "pick six" was the second of the season for the PLU defense. Pacific added its final score with 16 seconds remaining, Minaya throwing his third scoring pass of the period to cap an 80-yard drive. By the time the game ended Pacific owned a 415-413 advantage in total yards, but the Lutes held the ball for nearly 36 minutes to just 24 for the home team. James led the Lutes with 70 rushing yards on 11 carries, while Ritchey was 24-for-31 for 262 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions. Kyle Warner was his favorite receiver with 11 catches for 142 yards. Greg Hibbard had seven tackles and Cummings ended up with four tackles, an interception and a fumble recovery. Minaya was 32-for-45 for 342 yards with three interceptions and his three touchdowns, and the PLU defense limited Pacific to 73 rushing yards on 23 attempts.
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