By Craig Sanders
Arizona Daily Wildcat October 7, 1996
Arizona's Keith Smith was thrown into a pressure-cooker late in the Wildcats' 34-26 win over Washington State Saturday, but it was the redshirt freshman's ability to shake and bake that eventually cooked the Cougars at Arizona Stadium.
Smith juked, spun, shifted and galloped his way to 95 yards rushing and two touchdowns, breaking out of countless tackles and converting big play after big play. He also completed 16-of-23 passes for 149 yards, despite several passes being dropped.
"It was incredible to be in that situation, with the game on the line in the fourth quarter," Smith said. "When we were driving late I told myself, 'No way are we going to lose this game. I just refuse to lose it.'"
Smith's 19-yard run with the game tied at 20 and 5:45 remaining in the fourth quarter put Arizona ahead for good. UA head coach Dick Tomey said he was just trying to get into better field-goal range. Smith, though, as he had done all night, took the quarterback draw and dodged and darted past defenders, almost crawling into the end zone for the score and bringing the crowd of 47,405 to its feet.
"I'm just afraid of the big guys, so I try to avoid them," Smith said. "I don't want to get hit hard so I just keep running from them. I guess I figured if I got in the end zone I wouldn't get hit."
Smith's counterpart, the Cougars' Ryan Leaf, could probably relate to that theory. With his team down 27-20, Leaf had driven the Cougars to the Arizona 13 when UA linebacker Armon Williams came on a blind-side blitz to jar the ball loose. Arizona's Chester Burnett recovered.
"We threw in more blitzes," Tomey said. "We had to take some gambles. I knew coming in that we needed to get more pressure."
The Wildcats did manage to get pressure, sacking Leaf six times. Arizona's Joe Salave'a led the push from the defensive line, but it was linebacker blitzes that usually got to the quarterback.
"We had a plan to stop Smith and that didn't work," Cougar head coach Mike Price said. "We had a plan to stop Salave'a and that didn't work either. They're both just great athletes."
Yet the Cougars still outgained Arizona 390 yards to 294 yards. Tailback Miguel Meriweather paced the Cougars on the ground with 95 yards, and Chad Carpenter and Kevin McKenzie each had five receptions. Receiver Richard Dice led Arizona with four catches.
However, it was a Leaf interception, not a completion, that sealed the Cougars' fate. The Wildcats were forced to punt after recovering the fumble.
Leaf looked to drive his team downfield, but he hit UA cornerback Chris McAlister instead. McAlister used his speed to go back and forth across the field, finally diving into the end zone for the score with 44 seconds remaining.
"I was thinking touchdown," McAlister said. "If I didn't score the touchdown, the interception didn't mean much."
The Cougars were able to move the ball down the field in three plays for another touchdown to cut it to 34-26, but it was all over when Dice recovered an on-side kick.
"Dice really showed senior leadership by grabbing that ball and securing the win," Tomey said.
"We made big plays tonight in all the areas I wanted to see us play well in. I wanted us to get tougher and we got tougher. We still have room to improve, but we played better."