This was supposed to be one of the few stress-free Northwest Conference breathers on the schedule for the Puget Sound Loggers.
It certainly did not turn out that way.
Visiting Willamette had struggled early in each game it had played this season — which could be sort of expected from a school picked to finish near the bottom of the conference.
But on Saturday, the Bearcats gave a rip-roaring effort from the get-go, and shocked the Loggers, 63-24, at Baker Stadium in Tacoma.
Thus, the last unbeaten team in the NWC fell — and fell hard.
“It wasn’t the bye weeks. It’s not ‘we were caught with bad weather,’ or hadn’t been on the grass (at Baker Stadium) much — it wasn’t any of those things today,” UPS coach Jeff Thomas said. “We faced at team that was excited to go against us. … and they just took it to us today, up and down the field.”
Indeed, the Loggers had a two-week layoff after beating SCIAC champion La Verne and Occidental to finish the nonconference schedule at 2-0.
And it appeared Saturday that they were going to pick up where they left off after defensive back Benjamin Martin crashed through to block Taylor Wyman’s punt and recover the loose football in the end zone for a touchdown — and a 6-0 UPS lead 72 seconds into the game.
“It was a huge momentum swing, and we had it,” Loggers safety Jacob Wuesthoff said. “And it just never carried through.”
No, it did not.
The UPS offense never did find any rhythm. On its first play, the shotgun snap hit quarterback Hans Fortune in his hands, fell to the ground and was recovered at the Loggers 5 by Willamette.
It improved little. UPS (2-1) finished with 15 yards of offense in the first quarter.
Its initial first down came with 4 minutes, 52 seconds remaining in the first half.
“It just seemed they were a step into their pass rush before the ball got to Hans,” Thomas said.
And on defense, the Loggers could not stop Willamette’s inside run game — particularly Wyman, who rushed for a career-high 214 yards on 29 carries. The Bearcats finished with 379 rushing yards.
“They had the whole playbook open because of it,” Thomas said.
Willamette (2-2) grabbed the lead for good — 12-6 — late in the first quarter when quarterback Ryan Knowlton, an Emerald Ridge High School product, scrambled right and took off untouched for a 15-yard scoring run.
Knowlton threw two touchdown passes in the second quarter — the second one a 32-yarder to Trevor Ramirez with 2.2 seconds remaining to extend the Bearcats lead to 39-12.
This came after Willamette had trailed by three touchdowns in the first half in each of its first three games.
“This was a whole lot better,” Knowlton said.
And on the first UPS series of the second half, Fortune threw his first interception of the season, on his 127th pass attempt, after receiver Brennan Schon slipped along the left sideline.
It led to Nathan Dunford’s 34-yard field goal that capped Willamette’s 42 unanswered points.
Now the Loggers must regroup and go to Whitworth for their NWC road opener this coming Saturday in Spokane.
“It is alarming to lose by 40 to a team we beat two years in a row,” Thomas said. “That should not be in our program’s vernacular anymore.”