SALEM, Ore. -- Willamette University led George Fox University by a slim 7-3 margin after a low-scoring first half, but the Bearcats pulled away over the final two quarters to defeat the Bruins, 38-6, at McCulloch Stadium on Friday, Oct. 3. It was the Northwest Conference opener for both teams.
The Bearcats, who held a slim 127-126 lead in total offense at halftime, dominated the statistics in the second half. Willamette added 304 yards to finish with 430 yards overall. GFU gained a total of 269 yards during the game.
Willamette upped its record to 3-0, 1-0 in the NWC. George Fox, which is competing in football for the first time since 1968, fell to 0-3, 0-1 in the NWC.
WU was led on offense by wide receiver Ryan Foote (Jr.), running back Dylan Jones (Sr.) and quarterback Trent Spallas (So.).
Foote scored the first touchdown of the second half on a 54-yard pass down the middle of the field to give WU a 14-3 lead. He also added a 57-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter for a 31-6 advantage.
Jones provided strong running all night, as he carried the ball 28 times for 123 yards. He scored early in the fourth quarter, giving him six rushing touchdowns this season. He has gained 426 yards on 80 carries this year, while rushing for over 100 yards in all three games.
Spallas, who was 6 of 12 passing with one interception and 52 yards in the first half, was on target in the second half. He completed 9 of 9 passes over the final two periods to finish 15 of 21 for 185 yards and one touchdown.
Willamette scored on the opening drive of the game. The Bearcats moved 73 yards on 15 plays, with Jones carrying the ball eight times for 26 yards. The final run by Jones gave WU a 1st-and-goal at the GFU 8.
On 4th-and-goal at the 1-yard line, Derek Traeger (Sr., WR) ran into the end zone on a sweep. Conner Mertens (Fr., PK/P) converted the first of his five extra points to give the Bearcats a 7-0 lead with 9:45 on the clock.
A series of turnovers occurred early in the second quarter. First a high-flying, 43-yard punt by Lenana Meekisho of George Fox was dropped by Bryan Toles (So., DB) on a fair catch at the WU 22. Connor Tangeman recovered for GFU.
On the next play, Grant Schroeder was intercepted in the end zone by Wendell Galvan (Sr., CB) of WU. Two plays later, Spallas was picked off by Mark Sanchez for the Bruins at the WU 49. He returned the ball to the Willamette 36.
Eight plays later, Uriel Gonzalez hit a 25-yard field goal for George Fox to cut the lead to 7-3 with 10:33 remaining in the half.
With 5:47 left before halftime, GFU started a drive at its own 34. The Bruins ran 15 plays but did not score when a 31-yard field goal was blocked by Benjamin Jahn (Fr., OLB). Blake Young recovered for GFU, but was stopped for no gain at the WU 21 with 11 seconds to go.
The Bearcats forced GFU to punt on the fourth play of the third quarter. WU started the ensuing drive at its own 35. Two runs by Jones gained nine yards, and a 2-yard run by Spallas picked up a first down. On the next play, Spallas connected with Foote on the 54-yard scoring strike.
George Fox moved the ball 67 yards on nine plays following the touchdown by Foote, but had to settle for a 24-yard field goal by Gonzalez on 4th-and-4 at the WU 7. The field goal, recorded with 7:36 left in the third quarter, produced the first points scored on the Bearcats in the second half this season.
WU answered with a 12-play, 66-yard drive. On 1st-and-goal at the GFU 7, Jones rushed for four yards. The Bruins stopped Jones for a 2-yard loss on second down and sacked Spallas at the 16-yard line on third down. Mertens, who did not have a field goal attempt in Willamette's first two games, successfully kicked a 22-yarder for a 17-6 lead.
Jones scored on a 1-yard run with 14:03 left in the game and Foote reached the end zone on his 57-yard run with 7:07 left. WU back-up quarterback Zack Moore (So.) scored the final touchdown with 4:01 remaining on a 3-yard run. Moore ran for 37 yards on the previous play to set up the touchdown.
On defense, Jack Nelson (Sr., ILB) provided a team-high 15 tackles for WU on two solo stops and 13 assists. He recorded one-half tackle for loss and one QB hurry. Brendan Manion (Sr., OLB) added nine tackles and one-half tackle for loss.
Jimmy Roberts (Jr., ILB) earned eight tackles, including 1.5 tackles for loss. He also achieved one quarterback hurry.
Mark Mulligan (So., DL) provided seven tackles, including one sack and two tackles for loss. He also recovered a fumble. Jahn contributed seven tackles, with one sack, two tackles for loss and the blocked field goal.
Top defensive players for GFU were Jesse Bresser and Spencer Price. Bresser registered 12 tackles, including eigth solo stops. Price earned 11 total tackles.
George Fox running back John Shaffer rushed 26 times for 83 yards. Schroeder completed 15 of 30 passes for 170 yards and one interception. Garrett Esteb hauled in four passes covering 34 yards for the Bruins.
The Bearcats rushed 53 times for 245 yards and four touchdowns and gained 185 yards through the air. GFU carried the ball 43 times for 99 yards. Schroeder went 15 of 30 passing for 170 yards.
Up next for Willamette is an NWC game at Whitworth University in Spokane, Wash., on Saturday, Oct. 11. Kickoff at the Pine Bowl is set for 1 p.m. (PDT).