By no means was Jeff Thomas a happy camper.
After three weeks off, watching his offense misfire for the better part of 57 minutes, the coach of the University of Puget Sound football team wondered if it would find its way out of the doldrums.
Indeed, junior quarterback Hans Fortune and the offense did just in time.
The Loggers capped an 80-yard drive in the final minute with Fortune’s 22-yard touchdown strike to Parker Brisebois, and UPS escaped with a 24-20 Northwest Conference victory over Willamette at McCulloch Stadium in Salem, Ore.
The last time the Loggers (2-1, 1-0 in NWC) opened conference play with a road victory was in 2000 — a 17-14 win at Willamette.
“It is very comforting we don’t have to play perfect to win,” Thomas said.
The game Saturday was a prime example of that.
UPS went down and scored on its first series of the game — Fortune’s 10-yard scoring pass to Kevin Miller — but struggled with penalties, dropped passes and the timing of routes.
Fortunately, the Loggers’ defense was stout.
Willamette got inside the UPS 30-yard line five times in the first half, but only scored on Cameron Coe’s 26-yard field goal in the first quarter.
Coe’s 34-yard field goal with 4:43 remaining in the game gave the Bearcats a 20-17 lead.
The Loggers got one final crack at the lead with 3:06 to go. And Fortune was on it, starting the series with a 15-yard scramble, then completing five consecutive passes — three of them to Peter Bell.
On the final touchdown, Fortune saw Willamette in man-to-man defense, and called an audible to Brisebois on a delay route. The UPS receiver was all alone down the right hash, and Fortune hit him in stride with 1:17 to go.
Willamette faced a fourth-and-11 on its final drive, but Trent Spallas was picked off by Ronnie Espedal — who had two interceptions and a sack in his first career start at outside linebacker.
“We know how good our defense is,” Thomas said. “For them to bounce back from how they played against Occidental, and play as well as they did tonight was a huge step in the right direction.”
Fortune finished with 337 passing yards and three touchdowns. Miller caught 12 passes for 97 yards, and Bell set a career-high with 94 receiving yards.
At Pacific 34, Pacific Lutheran 7: Quarterback Warner Shaw was near-perfect — 25 of 32, 353 yards, three touchdowns — in leading the Boxers to a surprisingly easy, Northwest Conference-opening victory in Forest Grove, Oregon.
After the Lutes (0-3, 0-1 in NWC) went three-and-out on their first series, Pacific went on a 10-play, 76-yard scoring drive — capped by Greg Alip’s 1-yard run.
PLU’s best early scoring chance came on its next drive, getting inside the Bearcats 20. But on fourth-and-2, Lutes coach Scott Westering opted to go for it — and quarterback Jon Schaub was stopped on a 1-yard gain.
Two minutes later, Shaw connected with Jason Smith on a 54-yard touchdown pass, and the Boxers led 14-0 at the 1:37 mark of the first quarter.
chaub finished 19 of 32 for 181 yards. He threw an interception, and was sacked six times.
The last time the Lutes started 0-3 was 2006.