January 1, 1998

51 Yards To Destiny Mckenzie’s Catch Against Usc Set The Tone For An Incredible Season By The Cougars

 

COUGARS’ KEY PLAY

In a Washington State football season filled with record-setting performances and dramatic moments, Kevin McKenzie’s one-handed catch against USC stands out as the play of the year.

The 51-yard touchdown play was spectacular, dramatic and significant to WSU’s football history.

With the game tied 21-21 and 4:30 remaining, and with USC riding the momentum of a big second-half comeback, McKenzie caught Ryan Leaf’s pass with his right hand, picked up a great block and sprinted into the end zone with the game-winning score.

The 28-21 victory was WSU’s first road win against USC since 1957; it moved the Cougars into the Top 25 for the first time in three seasons; and it gave WSU an unprecedented season sweep of UCLA and USC.

“That play right there just set the tempo for the rest of the year,” McKenzie said.

Two other plays were at least as dramatic - the goal-line stand against UCLA and the overtime stop against Arizona - but neither could match McKenzie’s play for historic significance.

Further, those plays were as much failures by the Bruins and Wildcats as they were great plays by WSU.

“That’s what made us feel a lot better about that USC game,” McKenzie said. “It was us defeating them and not us trying to stop them from defeating us. It was all in our hands.”

Had UCLA running back Skip Hicks not taken himself out of the game moments before the Bruins faced fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard-line, or had backup Jermaine Lewis run where the play was designed to go, UCLA probably would have scored.

Arizona’s failed two-point conversion on the final play of overtime could be blamed on the inexperience of freshman quarterback Ortege Jenkins, who attempted to run the ball despite the fact that his tight end was open in the end zone.

HIGHLIGHTS

Cougars hold on against Washington, Arizona

Two of the biggest games WSU played this year were against Arizona and Washington. The Arizona game, played in Pullman, was a Cougar victory in overtime. Ryan McShane and Leon Bender celebrate the win.

The victory against Washington in Seattle put the Cougars in the Rose Bowl. Running back Michael Black scores the Cougars’ first touchdown in what would be a 41-35 victory.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 3 color photos

MEMO: These sidebars appeared with the story:

THE PLAY

Opponent: USC

Date: Sept. 13, 1997

Venue: Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum

The play: Kevin McKenzie 51-yard touchdown pass from Ryan Leaf.

The situation: Score tied at 21 with 4:30 left in the fourth quarter. WSU had blown a 21-6 halftime lead and was facing first-and-10 from its own 49-yard-line.

The details: Leaf looks left and throws a dart toward McKenzie in the center of the field. McKenzie makes a leaping grab with his right hand, lands at the USC 40-yard-line and takes off toward the end zone. As he crosses the 24-yard-line, teammate Shawn McWashington throws a devastating block on USC safety Antoine Simmons, who had one hand on McKenzie’s jersey and was about to make the tackle.

GAME-BY-GAME

Game 1: Aug. 30

WSU 37, UCLA 34

Pullman - 26,000

Ryan Leaf threw for a career-high 381 yards and three TDs and the Cougar defense made a goal-line stand late in the game to win before a national ABC-TV audience. WSU fell behind 14-3 before scoring 27 straight points in the second quarter.

Game 2: Sept. 13

WSU 28, USC 21

Los Angeles - 51,655

As the Cougars rallied from behind, Kevin McKenzie caught two passes totaling 82 yards and scored with less than 6 minutes remaining. Leaf threw for 355 yards and three TDs as WSU defeated both UCLA and USC in the same season for the first time in school history.

Game 3: Sept. 20

WSU 35, Illinois 22

Champaign, Ill. - 47,131

The Cougars, ranked 19th, overcame a slow start, scrambling for 21 fourth-quarter points to overtake the Fighting Illini, Leaf and McKenzie hooked up for an 80-yard TD on WSU’s first play of the day, but the Cougars had to rally from a 14-7 third-quarter deficit.

Game 4: Sept. 27

WSU 58, Boise State 0

Pullman - 34,131

The Cougar defense held the Broncos to only seven first downs, Leaf passed for 289 yards and three TDs, and Michael Black rushed for 141 yards and a score as 14th-ranked WSU blew out the visiting Big West representative Broncos.

Game 5: Oct. 4

WSU 24, Oregon 13

Eugene, Ore. - 43,516

Patience and persistence helped the Cougars outlast Oregon at Autzen Stadium. WSU scratched out only 30 yards of offense in the first quarter but chipped away at the Ducks. Black rushed for 124 yards and one TD while Leaf threw for 226 yards and a score.

Game 6: Oct. 18

WSU 63, California 37

Pullman - 35,759

The Cougars scored their most point ever against a Pac-10 opponent, racking up eight unanswered touchdowns after the Golden Bears went up 6-0 early in the game. Leaf threw for 332 yards and five TDs while Black ran for 86 yards and three TDs on only nine carries.

Game 7: Oct. 25

WSU 35, Arizona 34 (OT)

Pullman - 31,137

The Cougar defense stopped Arizona’s two-point conversion try to seal the victory for 10th-ranked WSU. Leaf passed for a career-high 384 yards to bring the Cougars back from a 21-14 deficit, then scored on a 1-yard plunge in overtime.

Game 8: Nov. 1

Arizona State 44, WSU 31

Tempe, Ariz. - 73,644

The Cougars took it on the chin for the first time this season as a sellout crowd watched the Sun Devils survive a furious second-half comeback try. WSU took a 25-24 lead with 13:18 to go, but ASU turned two late Leaf fumbles into TDs.

Game 9: Nov. 8

WSU 77, SW Louisiana 7

Pullman - 32,345

Ten different Cougs scored TDs as No. 15 WSU enjoyed its biggest margin of victory since 1907. Leaf threw for 305 yards, four scores and ran for another - and sat out the second half. WSU’s defense allowed only 152 yards on 60 plays.

Game 10: Nov. 15

WSU 38, Stanford 28

Pullman - 40,306

Before a record crowd at Martin Stadium, the Cougars trailed in the second and fourth guarters before finally putting away the Cardinal. Black rambled for 173 yards and a touchdown and Leaf threw for two TDs and ran for another.

Game 11: Nov. 22

WSU 41, Washington 35

Seattle - 74,268

The 11th-ranked Cougars earned their first Rose Bowl berth in 67 years by throttling Washington at Husky Stadium. WSU picked off UW quarterback Brock Huard five times while Leaf threw for 358 yards and two TDs, both to Chris Jackson, who had eight catches for 185 yards.

These sidebars appeared with the story: THE PLAY Opponent: USC Date: Sept. 13, 1997 Venue: Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum The play: Kevin McKenzie 51-yard touchdown pass from Ryan Leaf. The situation: Score tied at 21 with 4:30 left in the fourth quarter. WSU had blown a 21-6 halftime lead and was facing first-and-10 from its own 49-yard-line. The details: Leaf looks left and throws a dart toward McKenzie in the center of the field. McKenzie makes a leaping grab with his right hand, lands at the USC 40-yard-line and takes off toward the end zone. As he crosses the 24-yard-line, teammate Shawn McWashington throws a devastating block on USC safety Antoine Simmons, who had one hand on McKenzie’s jersey and was about to make the tackle.

GAME-BY-GAME

Game 1: Aug. 30 WSU 37, UCLA 34 Pullman - 26,000 Ryan Leaf threw for a career-high 381 yards and three TDs and the Cougar defense made a goal-line stand late in the game to win before a national ABC-TV audience. WSU fell behind 14-3 before scoring 27 straight points in the second quarter.

Game 2: Sept. 13 WSU 28, USC 21 Los Angeles - 51,655 As the Cougars rallied from behind, Kevin McKenzie caught two passes totaling 82 yards and scored with less than 6 minutes remaining. Leaf threw for 355 yards and three TDs as WSU defeated both UCLA and USC in the same season for the first time in school history.

Game 3: Sept. 20 WSU 35, Illinois 22 Champaign, Ill. - 47,131 The Cougars, ranked 19th, overcame a slow start, scrambling for 21 fourth-quarter points to overtake the Fighting Illini, Leaf and McKenzie hooked up for an 80-yard TD on WSU’s first play of the day, but the Cougars had to rally from a 14-7 third-quarter deficit.

Game 4: Sept. 27 WSU 58, Boise State 0 Pullman - 34,131 The Cougar defense held the Broncos to only seven first downs, Leaf passed for 289 yards and three TDs, and Michael Black rushed for 141 yards and a score as 14th-ranked WSU blew out the visiting Big West representative Broncos.

Game 5: Oct. 4 WSU 24, Oregon 13 Eugene, Ore. - 43,516 Patience and persistence helped the Cougars outlast Oregon at Autzen Stadium. WSU scratched out only 30 yards of offense in the first quarter but chipped away at the Ducks. Black rushed for 124 yards and one TD while Leaf threw for 226 yards and a score.

Game 6: Oct. 18 WSU 63, California 37 Pullman - 35,759 The Cougars scored their most point ever against a Pac-10 opponent, racking up eight unanswered touchdowns after the Golden Bears went up 6-0 early in the game. Leaf threw for 332 yards and five TDs while Black ran for 86 yards and three TDs on only nine carries.

Game 7: Oct. 25 WSU 35, Arizona 34 (OT) Pullman - 31,137 The Cougar defense stopped Arizona’s two-point conversion try to seal the victory for 10th-ranked WSU. Leaf passed for a career-high 384 yards to bring the Cougars back from a 21-14 deficit, then scored on a 1-yard plunge in overtime.

Game 8: Nov. 1 Arizona State 44, WSU 31 Tempe, Ariz. - 73,644 The Cougars took it on the chin for the first time this season as a sellout crowd watched the Sun Devils survive a furious second-half comeback try. WSU took a 25-24 lead with 13:18 to go, but ASU turned two late Leaf fumbles into TDs.

Game 9: Nov. 8 WSU 77, SW Louisiana 7 Pullman - 32,345 Ten different Cougs scored TDs as No. 15 WSU enjoyed its biggest margin of victory since 1907. Leaf threw for 305 yards, four scores and ran for another - and sat out the second half. WSU’s defense allowed only 152 yards on 60 plays.

Game 10: Nov. 15 WSU 38, Stanford 28 Pullman - 40,306 Before a record crowd at Martin Stadium, the Cougars trailed in the second and fourth guarters before finally putting away the Cardinal. Black rambled for 173 yards and a touchdown and Leaf threw for two TDs and ran for another.

Game 11: Nov. 22 WSU 41, Washington 35 Seattle - 74,268 The 11th-ranked Cougars earned their first Rose Bowl berth in 67 years by throttling Washington at Husky Stadium. WSU picked off UW quarterback Brock Huard five times while Leaf threw for 358 yards and two TDs, both to Chris Jackson, who had eight catches for 185 yards.


Thoughts and opinions on this story? Click here to comment >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email