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Lutes Take to the Road for Matchup Against Unbeaten Willamette

Photo by Mike Wells
Photo by Mike Wells

PARKLAND – For the second consecutive week, Pacific Lutheran looks to hand a Northwest Conference foe its first loss of the season, as the 17th-ranked Lutes head to Salem to take on 21st-ranked Willamette in an NWC football clash beginning at 1:30 p.m.

Willamette comes into the game with a perfect 5-0 overall record, including a 2-0 conference mark. The Lutes are now 5-1 overall and 2-1 in the NWC after last week's last-minute comeback win over the previously undefeated Pacific Boxers.

"What a great college football game it was," PLU head coach Scott Westering said of the 16-14 win over Pacific. "No one deserved to lose that game. Both teams played extremely well and made plays, and it was just a great, great college football game."

Willamette comes into the weekend with the most prolific offense in the Northwest Conference this season. The Bearcats have averaged a league-best 518.2 yards per game, while their 248 total points (49.6 average) is tied with Linfield for tops in the conference. Those yards come from a balanced attack, as Willamette ranks second in both passing (307.4 yards per game) and rushing (210.8). The Bearcats finished third in the conference standings last season, posting an 8-2 overall record with their only losses coming against Linfield and PLU.

"They had a great year last year," Westering said. "They're playing great football. They do some great things on offense, and they're very impressive and steady on defense. We're going to have our hands full."

Senior quarterback Josh Dean ranks second in the conference in passing yards (295 per game) and touchdowns (19), while adding 59.8 rushing yards per game. He has thrown only three interceptions and lost two fumbles this season. Dylan Jones leads the rushing attack, averaging 5.9 yards per carry and 63.6 per game to go with four touchdowns, while Taylor Wyman averages 6.8 yards per attempt and 46 per game and has scored a team-best five touchdowns. Derek Traeger leads all conference wide receivers with eight scores and ranks second with an average of 112.6 receiving yards per game. Jack Nelson averages 13 tackles per contest to lead the league.

Pacific Lutheran comes into the week with the league's third-ranked defense and rushing attack. Niko Madison leads the conference with an average of 87.2 rushing yards per game, and his four touchdowns are the fifth-most in the NWC. Dalton Ritchey ranks fifth in passing yards (224.3), while Kyle Warner ranks third in receiving yards (95.7) and fourth in touchdowns (6). Jordan Patterson leads the defense with 44 total tackles, including six for-loss. Dalton Darmody and Sean McFadden are tied for second on the team with 37 tackles apiece, while McFadden's two interceptions lead the team.

The Lutes have won the last three matchups between the two teams and own a 25-16-2 all-time record against Willamette in a series that stretches back to 1966. Last season, Ritchey rushed for three scores and the Lutes got an interception return for a touchdown as they knocked off a 6-0 Willamette team that was ranked 22nd in the poll.

Pacific Lutheran hopes to repeat that recent history this season, as Willamette once again comes into the matchup without a loss and ranked in the high-20s of the national poll.

"I know our guys are very excited to come down and play, and ready to play a great college football game," Westering said.