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Gesser, Cougars outlast Bears in a shootout

Jared Green
Monday September 30, 2002

Jason Gesser wasn’t going to miss this game. No sir. But the Golden Bears sure wish he had.  

Wearing a flak jacket over injured ribs, Gesser threw for 431 yards and four touchdowns to lead Washington State past Cal, 48-38, on Saturday at Memorial Stadium. The Cougars (4-1 overall, 1-0 Pac-10) scored 29 points in the third quarter to take the lead, then scored the game’s last 10 points after the Bears tied the score in the fourth quarter.  

“Ever since I knew I was hurt, I knew that I would play this game,” said Gesser, who was injured during a win over Montana State two weeks ago. “I played with a cracked rib last year and I knew I could play with it this year. I had no question that I was going to play today.”  

Gesser played the entire game despite taking several big hits from Cal defenders, including a Tully Banta-Cain blindside shot just after releasing a 41-yard pass to Jerome Riley that set up Washington State’s last touchdown. Gesser hit Devard Darling on a six-yard slant on the next play for a 45-38 lead, then the Cougars converted a Jason David interception into a 48-yard field goal to put the game away with two minutes left.  

Gesser completed 28-of-44 passes and led the Cougars to scores on seven of their final nine drives. His outstanding day overshadowed Cal quarterback Kyle Boller’s personal-best 371-yard, three touchdown passing performance. Boller set a career high with 29 completions but also threw two interceptions, both coming when he was hit as he threw. 

“Stats mean absolutely nothing when you don’t win the game,” Boller said.  

The Bears (3-2, 0-1) took advantage of two Washington State miscues to get tie the game in the fourth quarter. With a 38-28 lead, the Cougars couldn’t pick up a single yard in two tries, turning the ball over on downs at the Cal 27. Cal wideout Jonathon Makonnen proceeded to score an 11-yard touchdown on a quick pass when tackle Chris Murphy knocked down the only defender in the way.  

The ensuing kickoff went Cal’s way when true freshman Wale Forrester stripped the ball clean from Washington State’s Devard Darling and took it down to the 9-yard line. The Bears had three shots to take the lead, but Cougar defensive tackle Jeremey Williams stuffed Boller on a draw on third down and Cal settled for a 38-38 tie on a 20-yard Mark Jensen field goal. 

The Bears looked strong early in the game, but Gesser eventually got the Washington State offense going and started to strafe the Cal secondary. 

With Cal leading 14-0 late in the second quarter, Gesser and the Cougars finally came to life and scored their only touchdown of the first half, an 11-yard pass to wideout Scott Lundy. Cal defensive tackle Lorenzo Alexander blocked the extra point attempt.  

But Cal answered right back with a five-play touchdown drive, with Boller completing three passes for 57 yards including a 21-yard touchdown pass to tight end Tom Swoboda with 33 seconds left on the clock. Even when Gesser took just three plays to bring the Cougars within field goal range and Drew Dunning nailed a 42-yarder to cut the halftime deficit to 21-9, it looked as if the Bears were on track for a win in the Pac-10 opener.  

Gesser kept his rhythm in the second half, however, and led the Cougars to 29 points in the third quarter to take a 38-28 lead. It was the most points Cal has surrendered in one quarter since 1973, while all the Bears could muster was a 3-yard touchdown lateral from Boller to left tackle Mark Wilson on a trick play.  

The Bears simply couldn’t handle Washington State’s collection of offensive talent. Cal was forced to play several inexperienced defensive backs, including redshirt freshman Harrison Smith and true freshman Donnie McClesky.  

“We knew going in that we were thin in the secondary,” Cal defensive coordinator Bob Gregory said. “Anytime you get spread out by four and five receivers, you know you’re going to have some matchup problems.”  

While the new players did fairly well, with McClesky deflecting two passes early in the game, Washington State had three wide receivers with more than 100 yards in receptions. Riley led the way with seven catches for 139 yards, with Darling and Mike Bush also breaking the century mark.  

“Unfortunately, [Washington State’s receivers] made plays on the ball when they had to and I didn‘t,” said Cal cornerback James Bethea, who was victimized on a touchdown pass to Bush. “I can’t just slip and fall down and let him make the catch. That’s crap.” 

Cal got some outstanding performances from its own wide receivers as well. Makonnen had seven catches for 136 yards and a touchdown, and senior LaShaun Ward atoned for numerous drops last week with an outstanding one-handed catch for the Bears’ first touchdown on the game’s first drive. 

Notes: With his extra point after Cal’s first touchdown, Jensen moved to No. 7 on the Bears' career scoring list with 194 total points... Washington State’s second-quarter touchdown was the first score the Bears have given up in that period this season... The Bears have outscored their opponents 122-21 in the first half this season... Cal guard Jon Geisel left the game with a knee injury in the first half and did not return. Tedford said he would be re-evaluated today... The two teams combined for 1050 total yards, them most in a game involving Cal since the 1996 Aloha Bowl against Navy.