Cougars Clinch Rose Bowl Berth With Win Over UCLA

Dec 7, 2002

AP Sports Writer

PASADENA, Calif. - An elated Jason Gesser stood before several hundred cheering Washington State fans Saturday, smiling and waving a single rose.

'I'm feeling no pain right now,' the Cougars' quarterback said moments after leading his team to a 48-27 victory over UCLA and a berth in the Rose Bowl game on New Year's Day.

Wearing braces on his sprained right knee and ankle, Gesser didn't have one of his best days, completing 15 of 24 passes for 247 yards and two touchdowns with two interceptions.

But his performance was exceptional, considering many in his situation might not have played at all. Afterward, coach Mike Price said Gesser was 50-50 to play in the Rose Bowl game because of his injuries, even though the game is 3 1/2 weeks away.

'Just because my leg hurts now, I wasn't going to let my dream pass me by,' said Gesser, whose 24-10 record as WSU's starting quarterback is the best in school history.

Although his ankle hurt the entire game, he added that 'there's no way that anyone can keep me out of the Rose Bowl.'

The seventh-ranked Cougars beat the Bruins soundly, despite botching a fake field goal and an onside kick and getting a field goal blocked. In addition, one poorly thrown pass by Gesser was intercepted by Ben Emanuel and returned for a touchdown, and another one was picked off by Emanuel in the UCLA end zone.

But the offense did its part, and the Cougars' speedy defense and special teams proved too much for the Bruins.

WSU (10-2, 7-1 Pac-10), which played in the Rose Bowl following the 1931 and 1997 seasons, probably will face the Big 12 champion on New Year's Day.

Jason Gesser completed 15 of 24 passes for 247 yards and two touchdowns with two interceptions.

The final BCS standings and bowl pairings will be announced Sunday.

'To go to the Rose Bowl two times in five years is really something for our program, for our players, our coaches, and really for our school,' Price said.

Regarding Gesser, Price said: 'I would never say I couldn't expect Jason to do something, because that's the kind of guy he is. He's got to be the MVP of Washington State history.'

Had UCLA prevailed, it would have meant a Rose Bowl berth for crosstown rival Southern California. Even the presence of hundreds of fans wearing USC colors among the Rose Bowl crowd of 56,335 didn't help the Bruins.

The Trojans (10-2, 7-1), who lost 30-27 in overtime at Washington State on Oct. 5, probably will receive an invitation to the Sugar Bowl.

'We would have loved to have gone to the Rose Bowl,' USC coach Pete Carroll said. 'But Washington State had the chance to earn it and they played a great game. We congratulate them.'

UCLA (7-5, 4-4) will play a lower-tier bowl.

Gesser's status was in question after he was injured in the fourth quarter of what turned out to be a 29-26 triple-overtime loss to Washington on Nov. 23.

However, he played every play but one until coming out with six minutes left and the victory clinched.

UCLA freshman Drew Olson completed 13 of 27 passes for 163 yards and two touchdowns with two interception and was sacked four times. Tyler Ebell, another freshman who gained over 100 yards in six straight games earlier this season, was held to 10 yards on nine carries.

'This was the most I've gotten hit in any game I've played; they put a lot of pressure on me,' Olson said.

'To go to the Rose Bowl two times in five years is really something for our program, for our players, our coaches, and really for our school.'
-- WSU coach Mike Price

There have been several reports recently that UCLA coach Bob Toledo's job could be in jeopardy.

'It has a big effect on the psyche of a football team,' said Toledo, who has a 49-32 record in seven seasons as UCLA's coach.

'I will be disappointed if he's fired,' Olson said.

The Cougars clinched the victory when Erik Coleman returned an interception 25 yards for a touchdown with 10:20 remaining to complete the scoring. Emanuel's end-zone interception came on the previous play.

The Cougars went ahead for good by scoring 17 points in little over seven minutes for a 24-14 lead with 8� minutes left before halftime.

Gesser threw an 8-yard pass to Devard Darling to cap a 94-yard drive and a 22-yarder to Jerome Riley two plays after Marcus Trufant's 37-yard punt return.

Matt Clark fumbled the ensuing kickoff and Curtis Nettles recovered, setting up Drew Dunning's 30-yard field goal.

WSU had another scoring opportunity after Jason David's 30-yard interception return to the UCLA 13, but Dunning's pass to a wide-open John Tippins on the fake field goal was underthrown.

Jermaine Green, who gained 112 yards on 13 carries, ran 80 yards for a touchdown on a third-and-10 play with 48 seconds left before halftime, but the Cougars then tried an onside kick that didn't go nearly the required 10 yards.

The Bruins took advantage on the next play, scoring on a 39-yard pass from Olson to Junior Taylor to make it 31-21.

Price said the onside kick was the result of miscommunication between the coaching staff and kickoff man Adam Holiday.

Tippins scored on a 1-yard run to make it 38-21 two plays after Adam Braidwood blocked a punt, giving WSU the ball at the UCLA 15.

Olson threw a 27-yard pass to Mike Seidman to cap a 70-yard drive, but Nate Fikse missed the extra point.

Ricky Manning blocked Dunning's 31-yard field goal attempt early in the third quarter, but Dunning kicked a 37-yarder on the first play of the fourth period to make it 41-27.

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