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Arizona State derails Washington State’s Rose Bowl express

November 3, 1997

TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) _ Maybe there’s something to Mike Price’s can’t-win-in-November reputation.

Price, whose teams have finished with losing streaks of four games or more in five of his eight previous years at Washington State, is 0-11 in November road games after seeing his team roughed up by Arizona State.

And Price doesn’t consider it harsh to single out a coach for what happens on the field. He took the blame for the play that led to Arizona State’s 44-31 victory Saturday night.

``When it was fourth-and-3, I should have called a timeout, talked about the play selection and come up with a better play,″ Price said after failure to pick up a blitzing safety led to a 69-yard fumble return for a touchdown by Arizona State’s Hamilton Mee.

Arizona State (6-2 overall, 4-1 Pac-10) jumped from No. 20 to No. 15 in this week’s poll, while Washington State (7-1, 5-1) dropped from No. 10 to No. 16.

The Cougars face an uphill road in their quest for their first Rose Bowl berth since 1930, the last time they started 7-0. But it is not out of the question if they win out. Among the teams that could finish 7-1 in conference play, Washington State has victories over UCLA and Washington, and Arizona State (6-2, 4-1) went last season.

``We can use ASU as an example,″ said Washington State’s Michael Black, who was averaging 104.7 yards rushing but was held to 28 Saturday night. ``They lost to Washington, but they’ve played great since. One loss does not mean you’re out of it.″

Ryan Kealy of the Sun Devils threw for 245 yards and four touchdowns, teammate Michael Martin had 111 yards on 20 carries, and Washington State’s Ryan Leaf was 24-for-49 for 447 yards and three scores.

But talk about defense abounded after two Sun Devils defensive linemen scored the TDs that secured the victory.

``The better team won,″ said Mee, whose 69-yard return sent Arizona State to a 37-25 lead with 2:55 left to play. ``You get a quarterback like that that’s on top of the world, and you know they’re coming back. But we held together.″

Leaf fumbled when Mitchell Freedman shot a gap, pounced on him and jarred the ball loose.

``He jumped on him like a spider,″ Mee said.

Twenty-three seconds later, Derrick Ford got a 20-yard sack of Leaf _ the sixth _ chased another fumble into the end zone and covered it.

Earlier, Kealy threw scoring passes of 13 and 24 yards to Lenzie Jackson, 8 yards to Kenny Mitchell and 5 yards to Tariq McDonald.

Robert Nycz contributed to Arizona State’s building a 24-0 lead in the second quarter with a 31-yard field goal, and Rian Lindell had a 43-yarder in the second half as the Cougars battled back to take a 25-24 lead on the strength of Leaf’s first two scoring tosses, a 2-yard run by DeJuan Gilmore, and a conversion sneak by Leaf.

Kealy’s throw to McDonald with 9:57 to play regained the lead for the Sun Devils and set the stage for the defense’s huge fourth-quarter effort.

``We kind of sputtered in the third quarter,″ Kealy said. ``They had some offensive plays, and in the fourth we came back, scored some touchdowns, and the defense really reacted well.″

Leaf, who bruised his left arm during practice and hurt his throwing arm Friday, said the crucial play was a numbers game.

``We have five guys blocking, and they had six coming,″ Leaf said.

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