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November 13, 2010

Keep Hope Alive: Lutes Beat Willamette, 24-21

PUYALLUP - Needing a touchdown to keep its national playoff hopes alive, Pacific Lutheran drove 76 yards and scored on Tyler Bowen's 13-yard reception with 1:10 remaining as the Lutes defeated the visiting Willamette Bearcats, 24-21, in a Northwest Conference football game played Saturday afternoon at Sparks Stadium.

With the victory, the Lutes finish the 2010 regular season with an 8-1 overall record and a 5-1 mark in the conference, good for second place behind Linfield. PLU, ranked No. 19 in the D3football.com Top 25 national poll, will find out at about noon tomorrow whether or not it will receive one of six available at-large bids to the NCAA Division III playoffs. The Lutes last participated in the postseason in 2001, and the program won the 1999 national title in its second year of Division III membership.

With the loss, Willamette ends its season 7-3 overall and 4-2 in the conference, good for third place.

The Lutes put together two long scoring marches to open the game, fell behind 21-17 with 4:40 remaining, drove for the winning touchdown with just over a minute left, and then watched Willamette's potential game-tying 37-yard field goal hit the underside of the crossbar with 14 seconds remaining.

Pacific Lutheran came out on fire, taking the opening kickoff and driving 81 yards on 10 plays before scoring on a 3-yard run by Alec Simmons. The senior running back carried four times on the drive for 32 yards and also caught a 16-yard pass from Jordan Rasmussen.

After a Willamette three-and-out, the Lutes struck quickly with a three-play, 78-yard drive capped by Rasmussen's 65-yard scoring pass to Greg Ford. The senior wide receiver caught the ball across the middle, broke loose from a jersey tackle, and then outraced the defense to the end zone.

By the end of the first half, PLU had compiled 180 yards of offense on 18 plays compared to 26 yards on 13 plays for the Bearcats. After that, however, Willamette made it tough on the home team.

The Bearcats started their comeback by scoring a touchdown with 11:50 to go in the first half. They drove 80 yards on 11 plays, including a 24-yard run by quarterback Brian Widing that moved the ball to the PLU 17-yard line. Jake Turner capped the drive with a 4-yard scoring run.

The score remained 14-7 in favor of Pacific Lutheran entering the final quarter, and that's when the fireworks really started. Willamette finished off a 66-yard drive it started in the third period when Matt Williams scored on an 8-yard run with 13:50 left to play. Kyle Derby's kicked tied it at 14-14.

PLU marched right back down the field, going 58 yards on eight plays and taking a 17-14 lead on Richard Isett's 31-yard field goal.

Jose Green returned the ensuing squib kickoff 23 yards to the Willamette 48-yard line, but the Lutes defense held and forced a punt that was downed at the PLU 5-yard line. The Lutes worked their way out of the shadow of the end zone, but Walter Robinson forced Simmons to fumble and the Bearcats' Reed Warner recovered at the PLU 25-yard line. Willamette needed just three plays to score, that coming on Jamiere Abney's 1-yard plunge, and with that the visitors had a 21-17 lead with 4:40 remaining.

Undaunted, the Lutes started what proved to be the winning drive at their own 24-yard line. Rasmussen ran for one first down, and on a third-and-10 passed 11 yards to Kyle Whitford for another first down. Rasmussen was hit late and an additional 15 yards was added at the end of the play, moving the ball to the Willamette 34-yard line. Facing second down on the 13-yard line, Rasmussen got time in the pocket and waited until Bowen drifted free in the end zone, and the two hooked up for Bowen's first touchdown reception of the season.

Willamette had one last gasp on offense, and when Widing hit Jake Knecht with a 38-yard pass to the PLU 20-yard line, the potential for a game-winning touchdown or game-tying field goal increased dramatically. After three straight incompletions, Mitchell Rowan hit a line drive field goal attempt that struck the underside of the cross bar, ending the Bearcats' season and keeping hope alive for the Lutes.

Pacific Lutheran finished the game with 434 yards of total offense on 68 plays, with Rasmussen completing 21-of-37 passes for 299 yards and two scores. Isaac Moog had five catches for 109 yards and Simmons caught five balls out of the backfield for 40 yards. Simmons carried the ball 21 times for 117 yards, giving him 982 yards this season.

The PLU defense had seven tackles for loss, including three quarterback sacks. Isett, who plays linebacker in addition to kicking, led the Lutes with nine tackles, including three tackles for loss. Trevor Fox had seven tackles and Nick Edwards broke up two passes and had a quarterback sack among his four tackles. That trio was among the 21 seniors honored prior to the game.

Widing completed 9-of-25 passes for 133 yards, including three for 77 yards to Knecht. Willamette's big-play receiver, Scott Schoettgen, was held to three catches for 37 yards. Of their 303 total years, the Bearcats got 170 of them on the ground, with Williams carrying eight times for 75 yards to lead his team. Defensively, Ralph Pineda had eight tackles, including a sack, to lead Willamette.

- PLU -