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Nov. 1, 1997

Sun Devils Knock Off No. 10 Washington State

TEMPE, Ariz. - It has been a roller coaster ride for the Arizona State Sun Devils on the road back to the Rose Bowl. The Sun Devils took another wild ride against the undefeated Washington State Cougars and came one step closer to returning to Pasadena. ASU up-ended the Cougars 44-31 in a game filled with ups and downs. A sell-out crowd of 73,644 fans was on hand to cheer the Sun Devils to victory. This is the fifth largest crowd in ASU history.

Lenzie Jackson
Lenzie Jackson caught two touchdown passes for the Sun Devils. (File Photo)

Junior Lenzie Jackson said after the game, "We were up and then we were down. We showed a lot of promise. Coach told us it was going to go to the last play. We played right through it."

The game was a tale of two halves. The Sun Devils dominated the first half of play, outscoring the Cougars 24-7. ASU nearly doubled the Cougars in every offensive statistic. ASU held the ball for 19 minutes and 25 seconds of the half, running 48 plays for 303 total yards. 185 of those yards were gained through the air and 118 were gained rushing. The Sun Devils converted 6 of 10 third down conversion attempts. ASU has outscored its opponents 44-6 in the first quarter, shutting out seven of eight opponents in the first.

Quarterback Ryan Kealy sizzled through the first half, completing 16 of 23 for 185 yards and three touchdowns. Junior Lenzie Jackson had a brilliant first half with seven catches for 81 yards and two touchdowns. Jackson has now caught a pass in 21 consecutive games. Receiver Kenny Mitchell also had a touchdown, hauling in three passes for 37 yards during the first half.

Jackson said, "We heard they had the Fab Five, but we call ourselves the Bomb Squad. We showed we can compete with any receivers across the country."

On the other side of the ball, ASU smothered the Cougar offense during the first half. Washington State was only able to muster 168 yards of total offense. They were held to less than 100 yards in both rushing and passing. The Cougars managed to convert only 3 of 8 third-down conversions and moved the chains six times.

The Sun Devil defense held quarterback Ryan Leaf in check, limiting him to only four completions out of 14 attempts in the first half. No Cougar receiver had more than one reception for the half. Cougar running back Michael Black had just 29 yards rushing.

ASU opened the game strong, marching 79 yards down the field in 12 plays to set up a fourth and goal situation, but would not convert to make it into the endzone. ASU's defense forced Washington State to punt away their first possession after a quick four downs. Receiver Ricky Boyer would pull in the 44-yard punt and return it 22 yards to give the Sun Devils excellent field position at the Washington State 24-yard line. ASU broke through the endzone for the first touchdown of the game on a 13-yard pass from Kealy to Jackson.

Washington State tried to come back, marching to ASU's 31-yard. Leaf handed the ball off to Black and it looked like Black would make a significant gain, but coming hard and fast towards Black was a charging Mitchell Freedman. Freedman's hit stopped Black cold in his tracks and punched the ball out of his hands. Linebacker Pat Tillman quickly pounced on the ball to end the Cougar's first drive into ASU territory.

The second quarter opened with a quick eight-yard touchdown pass from Kealy to Kenny Mitchell that capped off an eight play, 67-yard drive from the previous quarter. The play that put ASU in striking range was a 29-yard reverse play from Michael Martin to Ricky Boyer that caught the Cougar defense by surprise.

ASU would score two more times in the half before Washington State. With 10:48 left in the half Robert Nycz kicked a 31-yard field goal to make the score 17-0. Kealy would find Jackson in the middle of the second quarter, wide open in the middle of the field. Jackson would haul in the pass and waltz into the endzone behind a Ricky Boyer block for a 24-yard touchdown pass.

The Sun Devils were pitching a shutout until Leaf found receiver Chris Jackson for a 22-yard touchdown pass for the Cougar's first and last score of the half. The half would end with the score at 24-7 in favor of the Sun Devils.

In the second half, the Cougars came out with a vengeance, hoping to send the Sun Devils spiraling down the roller coaster again. Riding the arm of Leaf, the Cougars mounted a comeback. Leaf finished the game with 447 yards on 24 of 49 passing, throwing three touchdowns and one interception. The Cougar offense came out strong in the second half to eclipse the Sun Devils in offensive production, but it would be the defense that would prove to be the game breaker for the Sun Devils. The Sun Devil defense scored two of the three touchdowns for ASU in the second half.

The Cougars mounted a comeback on the Sun Devils, first scoring on a 43-yard Rian Lindell field goal attempt, and then breaking into the endzone on a two-yard rumble over the right side to make the score 24-17.

Washington State threatened again early in the fourth. The Cougars scored on an 11-yard touchdown pass from Leaf to Shawn McWashington and two ASU unsportsmanlike conduct penalties put the Cougars inside the ASU one-yard line for the two-point conversion attempt. They would convert to take their first lead of the game at 25-24, but it would be their last lead of their game as the Sun Devil defense turned up the heat on Leaf.

The first defensive touchdown opened with a lightning-fast blitz by safety Mitchell Freedman, who broke through the line and bear-hugged Leaf. Freedman's hit shook the ball loose from Leaf's hands and defensive end Hamilton Mee recovered the loose ball and rumbled 69 yards for the touchdown to put the Sun Devils up 37-25.

Cornerback Courtney Jackson offered his thoughts on Freedman's performance.

He said, "He had this look in his eyes, and I knew that he was going to have a big game."

In the Cougar's next drive, Leaf was once again engulfed by a blitzing ASU defense. Defensive tackle Derrick Ford sacked Leaf, knocked the ball loose, and recovered the pigskin in the endzone, all in the same sequence to put the Sun Devils up 44-25.

"When Washington State went up, you could hear the crowd take a deep breath," said ASU head coach Bruce Snyder. "The way we came back really says something about the character of our team."

ASU also scored on a five-yard touchdown pass to redshirt freshman Tariq McDonald earlier in the fourth stanza, but had the two-point conversion intercepted by Ray Jackson to make the score 30-25.

The Cougars scored again late in the fourth on a 3-yard touchdown pass from Leaf to Kevin McKenzie, but it would not be enough as the Sun Devils ran out the clock to close out the game at 44-31.

Kealy finished the game with 245 yards, completing 23 of 36 passes and four touchdowns. He also took five sacks. Lenzie Jackson led all receivers with nine receptions for 89 yards and two touchdowns. Receiver Kenny Mitchell finished with five catches for 85 yards. Running back Michael Martin finished with 111 yards on 20 carries.

Leading the defense for the Sun Devils was safety Damien Richardson, who had ten tackles. Defensive end Hamilton Mee had four tackles, three sacks and one fumble recovery. Mitchell Freedman and Derrick Ford also had sacks recorded and Jeremy Staat and Vince Amey tag-teamed Leaf for half a sack each.

ASU has now won six straight Pac-10 home games. This victory also snaps a four-game losing streak against the Cougars. ASU improves to 6-2, 4-1 in the Pac-10 while Washington State drops to 7-1, 5-1 in the conference.

Safety Mitchell Freedman said after the game, "If we go undefeated from now until the end, then we have a chance to make it to the Rose Bowl."

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