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Washington State, Gesser Are Second to None

Quarterback sets two records, gives Cougars sole possession of Pac-10 lead with 44-22 win over Arizona State.

November 03, 2002|Mike Bresnahan | Times Staff Writer

PULLMAN, Wash. — The Washington State Cougars found someone to pummel other than themselves. Not surprisingly, they scored a knockout.

Demonstrating the concept of applied learning, eighth-ranked Washington State came out swinging Saturday and dropped No. 16 Arizona State, 44-22, before 37,444 fans in chilly weather at Martin Stadium.

For a team that could have been fractured by a locker room fight Tuesday, the Cougars did almost nothing wrong, owning a 37-8 lead entering the fourth quarter and taking clear control of the Pacific 10 Conference race.

The postgame celebration on the field was an obvious turnaround from a few days earlier, when linebacker Ira Davis sucker-punched cornerback Jason David because of an apparent spat over a female student, whom Washington State Coach Mike Price cryptically referred to all week as "a third party."

It was a literal black eye for a program that had become a national darling of sorts, basking in a reputation as those gutsy little guys from the Pacific Northwest.

Davis was suspended indefinitely and David, the Pac-10 leader in interceptions and former Covina Charter Oak High standout, will be out for a month because of a broken cheekbone, leaving the Cougars with only two scholarship defensive backs and what was believed to be a divided team.

Throw in the fact that 19 players suffered from flu-like symptoms during the week, and it appeared the Washington State defense would never rest against Arizona State quarterback Andrew Walter, who shredded Oregon two weeks ago for a Pac-10 record 536 passing yards.

But the Cougars had eight sacks, Jason Gesser set two school passing records and Price heaved a sigh of relief at his postgame conference.

"With everything that went on this week, it seemed like it had been a month since our last game," Price said. "When things like this happen, they can bleed and go on and on and on. We hit it head on, told [our players] what happened and said we need to do this as a team."

The Cougars also did Pac-10 number-crunchers a favor, eliminating -- for now -- the need for Rose Bowl tiebreaker formulas. .

Washington State (8-1, 5-0 in the Pac-10) has a decisive edge over Arizona State (7-3, 4-1) and USC (6-2, 4-1) because it has beaten both of them.

The depleted Cougar defense also had an edge for most of Saturday's game. Arizona State's offense crumbled whenever it came close to the goal line. Walter was sacked six times and failed to get the Sun Devils into the end zone until 13:51 remained.

Arizona State had four turnovers and was held to a field goal on three drives that penetrated the Cougars' five-yard line.

"That's the whole game right there," Arizona State Coach Dirk Koetter said. "Take every story and throw it out the window because if you get the ball inside the five three times and score three points, you're not going to win."

The Sun Devils had problems on defense too. Terrell Suggs ripped through Washington's offensive linemen last week as if they were turnstiles, getting 4 1/2 sacks. Suggs was held to one sack and four tackles Saturday.

"Maybe it was because of the cold or something," Washington State offensive lineman Calvin Armstrong said. "He seemed a half-step slow. He was a little off his game today."

In the end, Gesser continued to be the man responsible for pulling the Cougars out of their late-'90s funk.

The antithesis of 6-foot-5 statues Ryan Leaf and Drew Bledsoe, Gesser scrambled, shimmied and screen-passed his way to the Washington State career passing record, breaking Jack Thompson's yardage mark with a five-yard toss to Jerome Riley with 11:33 left.

The 6-foot-1 Gesser has 7,841 yards passing after completing 18 of 32 passes for 250 yards and three touchdowns. He also broke Leaf's school record for career touchdown passes (59) when he connected with Riley for a 31-yard score 1:15 into the game.

Gesser is also 18-3 in his last 21 games and has provided a refreshing blast of polar air to a program that had gone 10-24 in the three seasons after losing to Michigan in the 1998 Rose Bowl. In the last two seasons, only Miami and Oklahoma have better records than Washington State.

"At the end of the season, I'll look back and say, 'Boy this was phenomenal,' " said Gesser, a fifth-year senior.

"At that time, hopefully I'll have a smile on my face and say, 'We won the Pac-10 championship, we won the Rose Bowl and we had a good time along the way.'"

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Broken Record

After becoming Washington State's total offense leader last week, quarterback Jason Gesser added two more records to his list of accomplishments Saturday as he passed Jack Thompson as the school's all-time leader in passing yards and Ryan Leaf in touchdown passes. A look:

*--* JASON GESSER Years Yards TD 1999-2002...7,841...62 JACK THOMPSON Years Yards TD 1975-1978...7,818...53 RYAN LEAF Years Yards TD 1994-1997...7,433...59 DREW BLEDSOE Years Yards TD 1990-1992...7,373...46 TIMM ROSENBACH Years Yards TD 1986-1988...5,995...39 MARK RYPIEN Years Yards TD 1981-1985...4,573...28

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