Willamette 33, UW-Stevens Point 14

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STEVENS POINT, Wisc. — Willamette University got off to a slow start in its battle of nationally-ranked NCAA Division III teams at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point on Saturday, Sept. 4, but the Bearcats rallied for a 33-14 victory. The season-opening win moved Willamette, ranked #18 in the D3football.com Top 25 Preseason Poll, to 1-0, while UW-Stevens Point, ranked #16, fell to 0-1.

Stevens Point scored on its first two drives and held Willamette to limited offense on the Bearcats' first two possessions, as the Pointers took a 14-0 lead. The Bearcats rebounded to take a 27-14 lead into the halftime break and added one more touchdown in the second half to earn the final 33 points of the game.

A key drive for Willamette ate up the end of the first half and resulted in a 16-yard touchdown pass from Brian Widing (So., QB) to Jake Knecht (So., WR) with three seconds left in the second quarter.

Stevens Point held control of the game for most of the first quarter. The Pointers kicked off to start the game, then held Willamette to just three plays and no yards.

Following a 25-yard punt into the wind, UWSP took over at the Willamette 43-yard line and kept the ball for nine plays. Garrett Medenwald completed the drive with a 1-yard touchdown run on a fourth-down play, as the Pointers claimed a 7-0 lead at the 9:08 mark.

Willamette managed just three plays on its next possession and had to punt back to the Pointers. Stevens Point drove the ball 55 yards on six plays to extend its early lead. Mike Mullins hauled in a 14-yard touchdown pass from Casey Barnes with 4:35 left in the first quarter.

WU's offense started to find success on its third try. The Bearcats needed just four plays and 1:22 of clock time to drive 82 yards for a touchdown. Terrell Malley (So., TB) rushed for 18 yards on the second play of the drive. Matt Williams (So., FL) followed with a 59-yard carry that brought WU to the Stevens Point 5-yard line.

After a substitution infraction moved the ball back five yards, Aaron Cavette (Sr., FB) powered his way 10 yards to end zone. The extra point attempt was blocked by Joe Mleziva of UWSP.

Ralph Pineda (Sr., ILB) of Willamette intercepted a pass by Barnes five plays after the ensuing kickoff. Pineda grabbed the ball at the WU 40 and returned it 44 yards to the Stevens Point 16. Willamette was stopped on downs four plays later at the UWSP 20-yard line on the first play of the second quarter.

Willamette excelled over the remainder of the second period. The Bearcats scored 21 points to pull into a 13-point halftime lead.

First the defense held the Pointers to three plays, then the WU offense drove 63-yards on a drive that lasted 6:46 to cut the lead to a single point, 14-13. The Bearcats gained 54 of the yards on the ground, including a 17-yard keeper by Widing and a 13-yard run by Jamiere Abney (Jr., TB).

Abney recorded the touchdown on a 1-yard run. Mitchell Rowan (Jr., PK/P) kicked the PAT.

The WU defense got the ball back just two plays later, when Arlin Taylor (Sr., S) intercepted Barnes at the UWSP 44 and returned the ball 16 yards. Four plays after the turnover, Jose Green (Sr., TB) scored on a 15-yard run. Rowan's extra point gave Willamette a 20-14 edge.

Stevens Point then drove to the Willamette 49, before Brandon Matznick punted the ball into the end zone. After taking over at the 20-yard line with 1:40 on the clock, the Bearcats drove 80 yards on seven plays.

On the second play, Abney rushed 32 yards as the ball moved across midfield to the UWSP 48. Malley tacked on 10 yards, before Widing completed 2 of 4 passes to bring the ball to the end zone.

The first completion went to Chad Pollard (Jr., FL) for 27 yards. On 3rd-and-10 at the 16-yard line, Widing hit Knecht for a 16-yard scoring strike with only three seconds left in the half.

Stevens Point opened the second half with a 17-play, 73 yard drive that lasted 9:45, only to have the drive end when Jared Fohrman missed wide left on a 30-yard field goal. Keith Ingram gained 48 yards on 10 carries during the drive.

Willamette started the fourth quarter with an 85-yard drive with 12 plays, but didn't score when Rowan's 23-yard field goal was blocked by Mleziva. Although the Bearcats didn't score on the drive, they left UW-Stevens Point with very poor field position. On the second play, Henry Harrison (So., OLB) forced a fumble by Ingram at the 2-yard line and Pineda recovered the ball at the four.

Pollard crossed the goal line on the next play for the only score of the second half. The extra point attempt failed, but Willamette's lead was 33-14 with 7:33 remaining.

Stevens Point reached the WU 9-yard line before being stopped on downs with 3:48 left and also moved deep into Bearcat territory in the final two minutes. Jared Jenkins of UWSP, who led all receivers with 11 catches for 96 yards, hauled in a 5-yard catch at the WU 15, but fumbled with 26 seconds left. Tyson Giza (Fr., CB) recovered the ball for Willamette.

The Bearcats gained 344 total yards on 56 plays during the game, compared to 309 yards on 69 plays for UW-Stevens Point. Willamette rushed for 244 yards on 44 carries. Four runners each gained at least 50 yards for the Bearcats, led by Williams, who ran for 65 yards on just two carries. Abney rushed for 59 yards on seven carries.

As they did for most of last season, Widing and Kevin Ramay (So., QB) shared quarterbacking duties for the Bearcats, with Ramay receiving his first start. Widing finished 6 of 9 for 67 yards. The Bearcats committed no turnovers.

WU's defense held Stevens Point scoreless over the final 49:35. Pineda led the way, finishing with a game-high 11 tackles (7 solo), plus a fumble recovery and an interception. Taylor added six tackles and intercepted one pass.

Overall, the Bearcats forced four turnovers, as the Pointers threw two interceptions and lost two fumbles. Brandon Stremkowski topped UWSP with nine tackles (7 solo).

Willamette will play its second consecutive road game against a Top 25 team when the Bearcats take on Hardin-Simmons University (Texas) on Saturday, Sept. 11. Game time in Abilene, Texas, against the 15th-ranked Cowboys is set for 4 p.m. (Pacific)/6 p.m. (Central). HSU defeated Whitworth University, 27-7, this weekend.

Dec. 15: All times Eastern
7:00 PM
Mount Union at Mary Hardin-Baylor
@ Salem, Va.
Dec. 15: All times Eastern
7:00 PM
Mount Union at Mary Hardin-Baylor
@ Salem, Va.