Michigan states its No. 1 case Wolverines hold off Wash. State, 21-16, in Rose, lay claim to title

Griese TDs: 53, 58, 23 yards

Leaf spike fails to beat clock in frantic finish

January 02, 1998|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

PASADENA, Calif. -- The top-ranked Michigan Wolverines had all they could handle yesterday, but they handled No. 8 Washington State just well enough to remain undefeated and, apparently, win their first college football national championship in 50 years.

Quarterback Brian Griese, who stayed largely in the shadow of Heisman Trophy-winning teammate Charles Woodson and Cougars quarterback Ryan Leaf during the pre-game buildup, threw three touchdown passes to lead Michigan to a heart-stopping 21-16 victory in the 84th Rose Bowl.

Griese brought the Wolverines from behind with two second-half touchdowns and played ball control to near perfection in the fourth quarter to earn the game's Most Outstanding Player award. He completed 18 of 30 passes for 251 yards in the game and converted on 10 of 12 third-down attempts in the final two quarters to keep Washington State's explosive offense off the field.

"To win this game was my ultimate goal and it was the ultimate goal of this team," said Griese, the son of NFL Hall of Famer Bob Griese. "For me to be named MVP is something kids dream of. I'm just happy to be part of this team and what this team wanted to accomplish. I never wanted to be in the spotlight. I just wanted to be part of this football team and win this game."

The game -- and Michigan's 12-0 season -- came down to a final seven-minute drive in the fourth quarter that ate up the clock and protected the tenuous lead that Griese had built with second-half TD passes to Tai Streets and Jerame Tuman.

The Cougars finally got the ball back on their 7-yard line with 29 seconds left ... and Leaf still kept the sell-out crowd of 101,219 in suspense.

Leaf, who was 17-for-35 for 331 yards, completed a long pass to put the ball at the Washington 47, then hooked up with tight end Love Jefferson and running back Jason Clayton on a hook and lateral to reach the Michigan 26 with two seconds left. But the clock ran out as Leaf tried to stop it by spiking the ball, sending the Wolverines and their fans into ecstasy while Leaf argued with the officials that there still was time for one last-gasp shot at the end zone.

"I feel that two seconds was enough time to spike the ball," Leaf said, "but with all the confusion and the loudness of the crowd, I wouldn't want to be the official that had to decide whether the game was over or we get one more play. I think we should have had one more play, but there's nothing you can do about that now."

Michigan coach Lloyd Carr momentarily saw his national title flash before his eyes, then was engulfed in the on-field celebration.

"You've got to remember, you're looking at a guy who was on the sidelines at Michigan Stadium a few years ago when Colorado threw a touchdown in the last second to win a game," he said. "With Ryan Leaf out there, I can assure you that I didn't rest for one second."

The national championship debate will begin in earnest tonight if unbeaten Nebraska defeats Tennessee in the Orange Bowl, but the Wolverines insist that it already has been settled.

"I have no doubt we should be the national champion," Griese said. "We have played the toughest schedule by far, then to win the Rose Bowl against a great Washington State team. I ask you. Is there anything else you want us to do?"

The votes will be cast in both the writers and coaches polls after tonight's game and announced early tomorrow. Michigan did not win convincingly, but the Wolverines played a schedule that included seven Top 25 teams.

Going into the game, the national championship equation was pretty simple. Find a way to shut down Washington State's wide-open passing attack and start clearing a place in Ann Arbor for the trophy.

The Wolverines tried to pressure Leaf from the start -- and succeeded in disrupting his rhythm early in the game -- but Leaf took advantage of great field position on the Cougars' third possession to drive 47 yards on six plays and hit receiver Kevin McKenzie with a 15-yard touchdown pass.

Carr had talked all week about the importance of containing the high-powered Cougars' attack, but it appeared that his worst fears were about to be realized when Leaf moved right down the field to threaten again.

Michigan may be the best team in college football, but the Wolverines average just 28 points per game and depend heavily on their strong defensive unit to make that stand up. They needed a big play to keep Leaf from extending the lead, and they got it from a familiar source.

Woodson darted in front of McKenzie in the end zone and made his eighth interception of the year, showing another national audience how he outpolled Tennessee quarterback Peyton Manning (and Leaf) to become the first defensive player ever to win the Heisman Trophy.

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