McMINNVILLE Willamette turned a pair of early Linfield mistakes into quick points to force a 10-10 deadlock heading into halftime of Saturdays Northwest Conference showdown.
Perhaps the Bearcats would have been safest had they stayed in the locker room.
No. 3-ranked Linfield put up five touchdowns in the second half and ran away with a 45-10 blowout under a constant drizzle at Maxwell Field.
The Wildcats defense set the tone.
Willamettes opening possession of the second half saw an incomplete pass followed by QB sacks by Linfields Marq Randall and Brynnan Hyland that sent the Bearcats back inside their own 10-yardline.
A short punt into a heavy headwind put Linfields offense in scoring position.
Wildcats QB Mickey Inns reeled off three straight completions, finishing the drive with a 5-yard dart over the middle to Deidre Wiersma to put Linfield ahead for good.
Willamette went three-and-out on its next possession, and Linfields Colin Forman came up with the backbreaker when he rushed around the right side and laid out to block the punt. He scrambled across the turf, scooping the ball at the 5-yardline and crossing into the end zone to make it 24-10.
We needed something to change the game and that play did it, Forman said. Our line opened things right up, and I had a straight shot to the kicker.
Willamettes next possession would last only one play when Linfields Kyle Wright dropped to the turf for an interception.
The Wildcats delivered the knockout blow when Inns dropped back and launched a high spiral down the center of the field. Receiver Charlie Poppen sprinted past two Bearcats and caught the 38-yard strike in the back of the end zone.
"It's always nice to see those deep-ball plays come in," Inns said. "It was play-action, so I had my back turned for a moment, but when I looked back around Charlie was wide open. I just had to put the ball up for him."
In less than 10 minutes, the Wildcats had turned a tie game into a 31-10 lead.
Linfield added two more scores in the fourth quarter to move to 7-0 on the season.
The Wildcats defense dominated the day, forcing Willamette into three-and-outs 10 times and giving up only 12 yards rushing. Hyland led the effort with three sacks and four tackles for loss.
The coaches came up with a good game plan, and we just got after it, Hyland said. Every game is important, but in reality this is one that we look forward to each year.
Inns completed 17 of 31 passes for 229 yards with three TDs with Poppen being his favorite target hauling in five catches for 95 yards two of those in the end zone.
Willamette stayed close in the first half when Cody Pastorino blocked a punt, and the Bearcats turned it into points on a 14-yard scramble by QB Josh Dean.
Playing with a cast on his right hand, Linfield running back John Shaffer had the ball knocked out and Willamette recovered at the 11-yardline. Kyle Derby split the uprights with a 23-yard field goal to give the Bearcats their only lead 10-7 early in the second quarter.
Linfield answered on a 35-yard field goal by Josh Kay to knot the game going into the locker room.
The Wildcats travel to Puget Sound next weekend, while Willamette plays at Pacific.
Look for a photo gallery of the game at