Throughout both of their four-year careers, there has been a certain magic to Jim McMahon and the Holiday Bowl.

As McMahon, the quarterback of 56 NCAA records, led Brigham Young to a 38-36 victory over Washington State tonight in Holiday Bowl IV before 52,419 in Jack Murphy Stadium, both kinds of magic were obvious.

McMahon's magic is his passing. Tonight, in his last game for BYU, he completed 27 of 43 passes for 342 yards and three touchdowns.

It was a bit of the standard and a bit of the superior for McMahon, voted the most valuable offensive player.

"McMahon didn't do anything we did not expect," WSU Coach Jim Waldon said.

The magic of the Holiday Bowl is in the score. The game is always close. Tonight, BYU expanded its 24-7 halftime edge to 31-7 on Tom Holmoe's 35-yard interception return early in the third quarter.

The game, it seemed, was over.

Enter the Holiday spirit: Washington State, its offense stagnating with a measly 102 yards in the first half, scored 21 straight points in the fourth quarter. It became both 31-28 and sort of eerie, just like last year when BYU scored 21 points in the last four minutes -- the last on McMahon's 46-yard touchdown pass at the gun -- to beat SMU, 46-45.

Perhaps BYU remembered what can happen to a team that leads this game in the second half. Even though McMahon's 11-yard touchdown pass to Scott Pettis five seconds into the final period (BYU 38-28) was countered nine minutes later on a one-yard touchdown run by Washington State's Mike Martin (BYU 38-36), McMahon and his mates would not be foiled.

Washington State, which lost to Washington, 23-10, in the final game of the Pac-10 season and consequently lost the chance to go to the Rose Bowl, stalled on a four-play drive on its 36 with three minutes left. The Cougars punted, but their defense couldn't run down BYU, as BYU ran down the clock.

For BYU, the champion of the Western Athletic Conference, this was the second Holiday Bowl victory. The Cougars have appeared in all four Holiday Bowls.

"If I were a pro coach," Brigham Young Coach LaVell Edwards said, "I'd pick McMahon and he'd lead us to the Super Bowl."

McMahon completed only two of his first six passes for 13 yards on Brigham Young's first two drives, which stalled. On the third drive, McMahon parlayed his seventh pass into seven points. Wide receiver Dan Plater, who caught 62 passes during the season, beat safety John West on a 35-yard play.

Meanwhile, Washington State's offense sputtered and gave out. Junior Clete Casper completed three of 12 passes for 16 yards in the half. The WSU rushing was a more respectable 82 yards.

BYU had only 40 ground yards, but it had McMahon, who ended a seven-play, 53-yard drive with a nine-yard pass to Gordon Hudson with 13:58 left to make it 14-0, BYU.

Finally, five plays after WSU's Joe Taylor blocked Mike Mees' punt at the BYU 25, Ricky Turner ran two yards for Washington State's first touchdown..

Nine minutes remained in the half, plenty of time for McMahon to lead BYU to 10 more points.

First, Curt Gunther kicked a 20-yard field goal for BYU with 6:15 left. Then on BYU's next drive, McMahon was in the form that helped him gain his 56 NCAA records.

Washington State's pass defense seemed defenseless as McMahon completed six of six passes for 66 yards in the drive that ended with Waymon Hamilton's one-yard touchdown run with 1:06 left. It was 24-7.

Said McMahon, "I can't think of a better way to end my career."