This time was going to be different.
But Washington State, tantalizingly close to beating USC for the first time in 10 years, relived a familiar nightmare Saturday night, losing a fourth-quarter lead and, with it, the ballgame.
Delon Washington’s 17-yard touchdown run with 2:05 remaining ended a 13-play, 83-yard drive and lifted the Trojans to a 29-24 victory before a Dad’s Day crowd of 33,111 in Martin Stadium.
For WSU (5-3, 3-2 Pac-10), the sequence was eerily similar to the 1989 USC game, when the Trojans went 91 yards and scored the winning touchdown with 4 seconds left.
This time, the Cougars had time for a comeback, although chances for one seemed nill with 1:19 left and WSU facing third-and-39 from its own 5.
Then WSU pulled off a mini-miracle.
Quarterback Ryan Leaf overthrew Nian Taylor deep over the middle, but the ball was tipped by USC defensive back Prentice Hill - right into the hands of slotback Kevin McKenzie.
McKenzie alertly caught it near the WSU 40, cut to the middle and was tackled at the USC 47.
Leaf followed the 48-yard bomb with consecutive completions to Taylor (15 yards) and McKenzie (21). Suddenly, WSU was at the 11 with 49 seconds left.
Almost as suddenly, the ball was on the ground, the game lost.
As Leaf looked for McKenzie to come open over the middle, USC linebacker Lawrence Larry hit the quarterback’s arm, forcing a fumble
that linebacker Sammy Knight would recover.
“There was no doubt in my mind or the rest of the team’s that we were going to win the game,” WSU left tackle Scott Sanderson said. “Unfortunately, circumstances didn’t dictate that.”
And unfortunately for WSU, many of those circumstances were self-inflicted.
USC (5-3, 3-2) tied it 10-10 when the Cougars relaxed on the second-half kickoff, mistakenly assuming R. Jay Soward had signaled for a fair catch.
WSU watched as the freshman went 74 yards, untouched.
“That’s seven points right there that we just handed them,” Cougars coach Mike Price lamented.
WSU would answer with its most impressive drive, an 80-yard march that made it 17-10 with 11:16 left in the third quarter.
USC tied it by capitalizing on Leaf’s third interception, going 31 yards in three plays - a drive that ended with Brad Otton’s 29-yard pass to Mike Bastianelli.
After WSU was stopped in five plays, the Trojans extended their lead to 23-17 on Shawn Walters’ 1-yard run with 14:02 left in the game.
WSU defensive tackle Leon Bender, flagged twice for offsides on the drive, blocked the extra point to keep the Cougars within a touchdown.
“I don’t know what happened as far as our defense,” said linebacker Brandon Moore, who had an interception.Bender’s block seemed to inspire the WSU offense, which went 70 yards in 13 plays, Leaf finding tight end David Knuff for the go-ahead score with 8:45 to play.
“This is a tough game for us to lose,” said senior receiver Chad Carpenter.”My heart goes out to the seniors.”
WSU scored on the game’s first possession, Leaf finding Taylor for a 15-yard touchdown on thirdand-2.
Taylor beat USC cornerback Chad Morton on the play, stepping in front of the freshman on the left side of the west end zone.
Morton was making his first start at corner, ahead of struggling sophomore Ken Haslip.
Over the half’s remaining 15:04, there were 14 penalties, three interceptions, two fumbles and one blocked punt.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo
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