By Robert McKinney, Assistant Athletics Director, Communications
SALEM, Ore. -- In any athletic season, several plays will stand out in the memories of coaches, players and fans. For the 2019 Willamette University football team many of those plays involved quarterback Mathew Castaneda (Sr., Salinas, CA/Salinas HS) and wide receiver Max Andersen (So./Fy., WR, Chico, CA/Pleasant Valley HS/Butte College). The memorable plays go from a game-winning touchdown pass early in the season to a school record throw in the final game on Senior Day.
As we watched the efforts of Castaneda and Andersen, we were first drawn to a short, yet eventful, pass in the second game of the season against Occidental College. The Bearcats trailed by four points late in the game, before Andersen caught a 3-yard pass for the winning touchdown with 57 seconds left. The winning play concluded a 5-play, 67-yard drive that took just 1:25 off the clock. Kyla Gordon (Fy., PK, Salem, OR/West Salem HS) kicked the final extra point in the Bearcats' 34-31 victory.
"I saw that I had one-on-one coverage out there to the field side," Castaneda said. "They loaded the box up to defend against the run, so I took my one-on-one shot."
"Matt just threw a perfect ball, and I knew I had to go make the play," Andersen recalled. "That was a great game, and to win like that in the final minute was awesome."
"It felt good to win in the final minute of the game," Castaneda added. "It shows that our team fought till the end and never gave up."
The game-winning reception was Andersen's only catch in the first two games. His statistics would soon increase, as he became a key player for the Bearcats. Two NCAA games after scoring the go-ahead points against Occidental, Andersen caught five passes for 127 yards against Pacific University, including a 68-yard touchdown pass from Castaneda.
Also against Pacific, Castaneda threw for 254 yards and two scores for his third 200-yard game of the season. He passes for 270 yards and five touchdowns against the University of La Verne in the season opener, before throwing for 238 yards and four touchdowns in the win over Occidental.
Most Pass Attempts in a Game at Lewis & Clark
Fourteen days after the game against the Boxers, Castaneda and Andersen combined for impressive offensive statistics at Lewis & Clark College on Oct. 26. After a difficult first quarter, Castaneda ended the game with 34 completions on a school record 71 attempts. He passed for 441 yards and five touchdowns, while setting another school record with a total of 80 plays (nine rushing). Andersen caught three of the touchdown passes, as he scored on plays covering 6, 12 and 25 yards.
It was a record-breaking day for Andersen, too. He tied the Willamette record for receptions in a game with 14 catches against the Pioneers, and established a new school record with 247 receiving yards. His list of catches against L&C included passes that gained 50 yards, 26 yards (twice), 25 yards (twice, including the touchdown), 21 yards, 20 yards and 18 yards. Castaneda suffered an injury in the second half against George Fox University one week later.
"I was just happy to be contributing," Andersen said. "I didn't realize just how big of a game I had till the game was over. In regards to Matt, he just had trust in me to go make plays, even back against Occidental he trusted me to make that catch when I hadn't even caught one pass at Willamette. When you have a quarterback who trusts you to win your matchup and make plays, it just boosts your confidence and makes you want to make plays for him to keep that trust."
Another key receiver for the Bearcats was Jordan Jenkins (Gr., WR, Placentia, CA/Valencia HS). After catching 29 passes and scoring eight touchdowns in Willamette's first five games, Jenkins faced a double-team against Lewis & Clark and other teams late in the season. The result was that Andersen faced single coverage on most plays.
"Jordan is an amazing athlete," Andersen noted. "Being in his first season playing football and being such a dynamic playmaker that he demanded a double is extremely impressive. The fact that defenders had to key so much on him is the main reason I was able to have such big games. He is also one of the most unselfish players I've been around. He accepted the double team and a reduction in targets (passes thrown to him) because of it, and didn't get upset about it and knew that taking two defenders would leave someone else open."
Record for Pass Receptions at Puget Sound; Longest Pass Completion against PLU
Two games later, Anderson broke the school record for receptions at the University of Puget Sound. Against the Loggers, he caught 16 passes for 235 yards and two touchdowns from back-up quarterback Aidan Kuykendall (So., QB, San Pedro, CA/Palos Verdes Peninsula HS/L.A. Harbor College).
Castaneda was able to return for the final game of the season against Pacific Lutheran University on Nov. 16 at McCulloch Stadium. He started, but gave way to Kuykendall for part of the first quarter. While in the game, Kuykendall threw a 23-yard touchdown pass to Andersen. Castaneda returned and was 20 of 39 passing for 334 yards two touchdowns. The first of his two touchdown passes went to Andersen on a 95-yard play that broke Willamette's record for longest pass completion. Andersen finished the game with six catches for 171 yards.
"That was definitely the longest play I've ever been a part of, and the whole time I was just hoping I didn't get caught from behind," Andersen said. "I was the first option, and I knew Matt was going to be looking for me. When I saw how the cornerback was playing it, I thought there was a good chance for a big play. Matt threw one of the best deep balls I've ever caught."
"Max's vertical was the primary target on that play. We noticed that they were playing him one-on-one without help over the top, so we decided to take a shot and it paid off," Castaneda noted. "When I got to the sideline, someone told me it was a record-setting play, and I was pretty excited because it was my last game at Willamette. Setting a record in your last game feels good."
"Other than the game-winner against Occidental, it was the most memorable play of the season, mostly because of how excited the whole team was afterward," Andersen commented. "The whole offense, offensive line included, was sprinting just as hard as I was to meet me in the end zone."
Castaneda and Andersen didn't know it at the time, but they combined to break a 31-year-old record. The previous record of 94 yards for the longest pass was set by quarterback Todde Greenough and wide receiver David Shirley against Whitworth University on Oct. 8, 1988.
Impressive Season and Career Totals
Andersen ended the season as Willamette's leading receiver with 47 catches for 852 yards and 10 touchdowns. He averaged 18.1 yards per catch. "I'm happy with my performance this season," Andersen said. "It think there is a lot to build off of, and a lot to improve going into next year."
Jennkins registered 33 catches for 460 yards during the season. He caught nine touchdown passes.
As the team's primary quarterback, Castaneda finished the year with 144 completions on 304 attempts for 1,880 yards (235.0 avg.) and 19 touchdowns. He also gained 246 rushing yards on 66 carries, giving him 2,126 yards of total offense.
"I think throughout the year our offense had a lot of positive plays that stemmed from our hard work in the offseason and during the season," Castaneda said. "It wasn't the season we necessarily wanted, but the sparks that we showed at times were extremely positive and just showed what this offense could be if we all play together."
Castaneda and 17 other seniors were honored on Senior Day. Castaneda's four years on the Willamette football team allowed him to complete 448 of 868 passes (51.6%) for 4,997 yards and 36 touchdowns. He threw for 3,534 yards and 29 touchdowns as a junior and a senior. He also gained 938 career rushing yards on 222 carries (4.2 avg.). He scored seven rushing touchdowns. He gained 5,935 yards of total offense in his career, for an average of 212.0 total yards per game.
"Overall, I really enjoyed my time playing for Willamette and I'm extremely thankful for the opportunities I was given on the field," Castaneda said. "It wasn't always bright lights and pretty colors, but there are still so many positives to take from my career with the Bearcats ... I wouldn't trade my time here for anything else."
Willamette Records Held by Mathew Castaneda
Passing Attempts in a Game -- 71, vs. Lewis & Clark, Oct. 26, 2019
Total Plays in a Game -- 80, vs. Lewis & Clark, Oct. 26, 2019
Total Offense in a Game -- 465 yards, vs. Lewis & Clark, Oct. 26, 2019
Willamette Records Held by Max Andersen
Most Catches in a Game -- 16, vs. Puget Sound, Nov. 9, 2019
Most Receiving Yards in a Game -- 247, vs Lewis & Clark, Oct. 26, 2019
Willamette Record Co-Held by Castaneda and Andersen
Longest Pass Completion -- 95 yards, vs. Pacific Lutheran, Nov. 16, 2019