Sun Devils End Cougars Perfect Season
November 1, 1997
TEMPE, Ariz. - A sellout crowd of 73,644 watched the Arizona State Sun Devils survive to beat Washington State 44-31, in a game of streaks that was closer than the final score.
The loss left the 10th ranked Cougs 7-1 on the season, 5-1 in Pac-10 play, while Arizona State improved to 6-2 with a 4-1 Pac-10 record.
Arizona State owned the first 22 minutes of the game. ASU quarterback Ryan Kealy fired two touchdown passes to Lenzie Jackson and one to Kenny Mitchell, while Robert Nycz converted on all three extra-points and added a 31-yard field goal to give the Sun Devils a 24-0 lead with 7:43 remaining in the first half.
But before the Cougars could be pronounced dead at the scene, they showed signs of life with a four-play, 78-yard drive that put WSU on the scoreboard. Leaf's 22-yard touchdown connection with Chris Jackson brought the Cougs to 24-7.
At halftime, the WSU rushing attack had amassed 92 yards - 59 coming on one play - while Ryan Leaf had been held to just 76 yards on 4-of-14 passing. ASU seemed to have the game in its pocket, but the Cougs quickly pronounced that they would not go quietly, driving 66 yards on eight plays in their second possession of the third quarter to set up a 43-yard Rian Lindell field goal.
Down 24-10, the WSU defense earned the ball back for the Cougars with 3:49 remaining in the third quarter. On third-down-and-15, Leaf found Sean McWashington for a 66-yard catch and run, bringing the ball to ASU's nine yard-line. Three plays later, DeJuan Gilmore punched into the endzone for the score.
When the third quarter expired, WSU had closed the gap to 24-17 and had the ball on their 40 yard-line. Leaf quickly passed through the Sun Devil defense: 15 yards to Kevin McKenzie, 29 yards to Jackson, 20 yards to McWashington, and finally an 11-yard touchdown pass to McWashington. Two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties against ASU gave Washington State the ball inside the one yard-line for their point-after-try.
Taking advantage of the field position, Leaf extended over the goal line to nab the two-point conversion and the lead, 25-24, with 13:18 remaining in the game.
Arizona State was not ready to fold and responded with an 80-yard scoring drive. Kealy's fourth touchdown pass of the game, this time to Tariq McDonald, regained the lead for ASU 30-25.
After burning their final timeout, the Sun Devils attempted to pass for the two-point conversion, but Kealy's pass was intercepted by Ray Jackson putting WSU in the driver's seat to regain the lead with a touchdown.
The Cougars began what proved to be the crucial drive of the game at their eight yard-line with 6:53 remaining. Eight passing plays later, WSU faced fourth-down-and-three at the ASU 23 yard-line. Arizona State's Mitchell Freedman blitzed straight through the offensive line, leaping on Leaf before he had a chance to react. While the sack would have been costly enough, Leaf fumbled the ball and Hamilton Mee picked it up, rumbling 69 yards to a win-securing touchdown.
All hopes of a magical comeback were smashed on WSU's next possession, when a Derrick Ford sack forced another Leaf fumble, providing an insurance touchdown for ASU. With 2:32 remaining, the Cougars marched 80 yards on seven plays for the final score. McKenzie squeezed Leaf's touchdown pass to shorten the lead to 44-31 with just over a minute left to play, but the two-point conversion and following on-side kick failed.
Arizona State finished on top, crushing Washington State's undefeated season. Despite a slow first half, Leaf still managed to pass for a career-high 447 yards, the most ever by a WSU quarterback against a Pac-10 opponenent. Brandon Moore provided 20 tackles for the WSU defense in the losing effort.
WASHINGTON STATE 0 7 10 14 31 ARIZONA STATE 7 17 0 20 44
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