What do Washington State's Matt Kegel and Ryan Leaf have in common other than being winning quarterbacks in the Coliseum?
For one thing they are cousins. (Kegel's mother, Sherry, and Leaf's mother, Marcia, are sisters.) They both are about 6 feet 5 and have strong right arms that can sling footballs long distances.
And both can claim a victory over USC at the Coliseum. Leaf helped Washington State beat the Trojans, 28-21, in 1997, and Kegel piloted the Cougars to a 33-27 victory Saturday.
In fact, they have led the Cougars to consecutive road victories over USC for the first time in the 40 years the schools have played against each other.
The major difference, however, is Leaf was a senior three years ago. Kegel is a redshirt freshman making his first college start, replacing the injured Jason Gesser, who broke his leg last week against Oregon.
"The goal was to win the last two games of the season," said Kegel, now pointing to the traditional season-ending showdown against Washington. "We wanted to prove we should have gone to a bowl if we could have caught a couple of breaks."
Kegel, who threw for 242 yards and a touchdown despite completing only 12 of 32 passes, insisted "the defense won the game," noting the Cougars used an interception to set up their first touchdown. A blocked punt and a fumble also were turned into scores.
But the bubbly freshman did nothing to lose the game. In the face of USC's defensive pressure Kegel had no turnovers and was sacked once.
Kegel's coaches and teammates kept waiting for the nerves to show, but the freshman remained composed.
"I felt really good about him and the job he did," Washington State Coach Mike Price said. "He definitely rose to the occasions and was very calm throughout the game . . . calmer than I was."
"Any time you put this kind of pressure on a freshman, you don't know what the outcome may be," said Cougar receiver Milton Wynn, who caught three passes for 61 yards and also scored the first Washington State touchdown, on a 25-yard reverse.
"But he came up in the first start of his career and pulled out a victory against a huge school. Historically and traditionally, USC is a big school. That's a big win not only under his belt but all of our belts."
Kegel, who got a pep talk from Leaf at the team hotel Friday night--"He's always real positive with me"--said he got all the nerves out against Oregon in relief of Gesser. "Maybe the first pass play I was a little nervous, but I settled down after that," he said.
His poise was never more evident than in the third quarter. USC had scored a touchdown to cut Washington State's lead to 12-7 and was driving again, only to be stopped on a fourth-and-one play at the Cougars' 12. On the first snap, Kegel coolly drifted back and launched a bomb to receiver Marcus Williams, who took it 88 yards for a touchdown--the second-longest touchdown pass in school history--that put Washington back up by 12 points.
"I was able to look the safety off and just bomb it," Kegel said. "Luckily Marcus ran underneath it and he got it. It took care of the momentum USC was coming up with, and gave it back to us."