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FOREST GROVE – It was just five short years ago that Pacific reinstated their football program, and now that same program has earned the title of Northwest Conference champions.
The Boxers scored 24 unanswered points in the second quarter and held off a fourth quarter rally by No. 25 Willamette to beat the Bearcats 41-24 and secure a share of their first NWC title since 1952 Saturday at Hanson Stadium.
The victory gives Pacific (6-2, 6-0 NWC) a share of the conference championship with Linfield, who beat Puget Sound 73-10 on Saturday. The two teams will square off on Saturday in McMinnville, with the winner receiving the conference's automatic berth to the NCAA Division III playoffs. The win also gave Pacific their school record sixth conference victory and sixth straight NWC win.
"I am so excited for our players, our coaches and the entire Pacific community," said Pacific head coach Keith Buckley. "It's a feather in the cap of this university, who jumped behind all that we were trying to. Our guys woke up ready to play football today. That's something we challenged our guys to do and they answered the call."
Pacific was outgained by Willamette 407-349, but the Boxers made the most of their opportunities by scoring on five of their six opportunities in the red zone. Quarterback Warner Shaw (Jr,. Waimea, Hawaii) completed 19 of 28 for 219 yards and a touchdown. Most of Pacific's scoring came on the ground with Kamana Pimental (So., Kaneohe, Hawaii) rushing 12 times for 40 yards and the touchdown. Bobby Ladiges (Jr., Escalon, Calif.) carried nine times for 38 yards and the Boxers' first two scores. Jakob Lawrence (Sr., Sherwood, Ore.) led the receivers with nine catches for 88 yards.
Willamette quarterback Trent Spallas completed 17 of 30 for 167 yards, but was sacked four times and intercepted once. Derek Traeger was Spallas' preferred target, catching nine passes for 73 yards. Conference-leading running back Dylan Jones carried 23 times for 166 yards and two touchdowns, but had only 65 yards after the first quarter.
Containing Jones was a big part of the Boxers' game plan. "He is a great player and he got us early," Buckley said. "The speed got us early, but our guys figured things out and we were able to get him on the ground."
Willamette (5-3, 3-3 NWC) won the loss, and Jones wasted little time to put the Bearcats on the board. On the second play from scrimmage, he found a seam on the sideline to streak 70 yards for the touchdown as the visitors took a 7-0 lead less than a minute again.
As it turned out, that is the last time that Willamette would score until right at halftime. The defenses took over for the rest of the first quarter before the Boxers scored on all five of their second quarter drives. Ladiges put Pacific on the scoreboard with 12:12 to go in the half, running 19 yards for the touchdown that tied the game at 7-7.
Willamette fumbled the ensuing kickoff and Max Look's (Fr., Honolulu, Hawaii) recovery and return put the Boxers at the Willamette three-yard line. Ladiges did the honors again, rushing in from three yards away for a 14-7 Pacific lead. After the Willamette stop on the Boxers' next series, the Boxers called upon Moses Villareal-Gomez (Sr., Stockton, Calif.) for a 37-yard field goal to make it a 17-7 lead with 5:15 left in the half.
After forcing the Bearcats to punt again on their next possession, Harms set up the Boxers again with a 38-yard punt return. Pacific needed just five plays for Pimental to march in from one yard out for the 24-7 lead with 2:10 left in the half.
Both teams traded punts on their next possessions and Willamette looked destined for the end zone on the final drive of the first half. Spallas came up with pass plays of 33 yards, 19 yards and 20 yards to put the Bearcats in the red zone, but the Boxers made stops with short time as the Bearcats settled for a 35-yard Conner Mertens field goal to bring the game within 24-10 at halftime.
Willamette stopped Pacific on their opening drive of the second half, but on the Bearcats' first play Jeff Bajema (So., Burlington, Wash.) stripped Spallas at the goal line and recovered for the defensive touchdown and a 31-10 lead with just over two minutes gone. The Bearcats went three-and-out again on their next series and Pacific put it in the end zone again as Shaw found Sean Visperas (So., Stockton, Calif.) for the 20-yard touchdown pass as Pacific went ahead 38-10 with 6:15 left in the third.
Willamette proved methodical on their next drive to earn their first touchdown since the opening drive of the game, taking 3:37 to go 78 yards on 10 plays. A 15-yard run by Austin Jones set up a one-yard Jones run with 2:30 left that made the score 38-17. The Bearcats then converted a Pacific fumble to scored the only touchdown of the fourth quarter, which Beau Smith scored on a 17-yard pass from Spallas that brought Willamette within 31-24.
Pacific had their final score with 2:33 to go, with Villareal-Gomez connecting on a 41-yard field goal. Willamette extended their final drive with a 17-yard completion from Spallas to Jones on 4th and 16, but turned the ball over on downs a minute later to allow the celebration to begin.
Jack Perez (Jr., Petaluma, Calif.) led Pacific with 13 tackles, a sack and a tackle for loss while Avery Richardson (So., Corona, Calif.) finished with 10 tackles. Jack Nelson and Jimmy Roberts each had 11 tackles to lead Willamette.
Pacific and Linfield will play the 2014 regular season finale in McMinnville next week with the automatic berth to the NCAA Division III playoffs on the line. Kickoff is scheduled for 1 p.m. The game will be broadcast live at 1360 KUIK and online at GoBoxers.com. Willamette finishes up on Saturday hosting Puget Sound.
Pacific Shuts Down Willamette To Clinch Share Of NWC Title
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