Gesser says best team lost; vows redemption

PULLMAN -- Just minutes after the three most anticipated passes of <b>Jason Gesser</b>'s career fell incomplete in the Oregon endzone as time expired, the junior quarterback minced no words in his assessment of the painful 24-17 loss that tumbled the Cougars from the ranks of the unbeaten.

"A loss anytime is hard. I didn't expect coming into the game to lose, I expected to be undefeated," said Gesser, who entered the reginally televised showdown having tasted defeat but six times in 17 collegiate starts. "We are a better team than Oregon, but we did not play better than them today. We are a better team and we didn't show it on the field."

Given the far-reaching implications a victory would have held for the Cougars and given the nail-biting way the game ended, the loss figures to rate in the annals of Palouse grid disappointments somewhere between Arizona State in '97 and USC in '89.

Oregon '01.

Oh, how it stings.

Gesser vows to use the bitter loss as a motivational tool.

"This (loss) is going to drive us more than anything," Gesser said. "We know we should have won this game and that's going to drive us tomorrow and this whole week. We can't just go out there and show up and expect to win, we've got to go out there and play better than the team on the other sideline. W didn't do that today and we should have."

Had they, given the defeats suffered by six other ranked teams during the day, the mighty cats of the Palouse would in all likelihood be staring at a top five ranking this week. Instead, it's back to seeking respect because the fairy-tale season hit a big-time snag in rain-soaked Martin Stadium.

Actually, it was much more than a snag. It was a freight train in the form of running back Onterrio Smith.

The fleet feet of the Duck sophomore, as well as those of senior Maurice Morris, did in the Cougars rather than the golden arm of Joey Harrington.

While most keen observers of the Cougars knew that the club's lofty rating coming into the game as the Pac-10 stingiest run defense was built mostly on the backs of weak sisters like Idaho, Cal and Arizona, who could have foreseen the Duck offensive line blowing huge holes in the Cougar D?

Smith ran roughshod over drenched FieldTurf for a school record 285 yards and three touchdowns. Even when he had nowhere to run, he found seams and ran to daylight.

In all, the Ducks piled up yards on the ground -- 446 -- to eclipse a 41-year-old school record. Morris chipped in 139 of them.

"We thought they were going to come in and try and pass it with their Heisman candidate, but they're a versatile team and we were surprised," said WSU safety Billy Newman. "Onterrio's a great back and we just didn't wrap up and tackle well."

Joey ‘Heisman' was kept relatively in check with only 119 yards on 14 of 26 passing, but with the ground game averaging 9.3 yards per carry he didn't need to carry the offensive load.

"That (rushing record) goes to everybody on our offense," Oregon head coach Mike Bellotti said. "The offensive line, receivers and backs all did a great job. Everybody did their part to make our running game successful."

The Duck defense, rated ninth in the conference coming into the game, also did a number on the Cougars, limiting the crimson O to nearly 100 yards below their season average.

"We thought we could run the ball against them much better than we did, and we couldn't get anything going offensively for three quarters," Coug head honcho Mike Price said. "We left the defense on the field too long, and they just out-blocked us and ran by us. Their backs were better than our tacklers tonight."

Bellotti was also pleased with his defensive squad, which had no trouble limiting the Cougars to 82 yards rushing.

"We really stepped up tonight," Bellotti said. "We broke down a few times, and WSU battled back. I've got to give them credit, they are a great football team."

The Cougs showed their resiliency by battling to within a touchdown and then driving to the Oregon eight-yard-line in the waning moments only to have three Gesser passes fall incomplete in the endzone.

"This was the first time we've been down like that and we just kept fighting and fighting until the last play of the game," said wide receiver Collin Henderson, who in the first half fired a 63-yard pass to Matt Kegel that set up a Drew Dunning field goal that gave the Cougars their only lead of the game at 3-0. "I'm not upset, I'm disappointed. These are the games you remember and they hurt to lose." Henderson is now 8 of 8 passing in his career, with five of those strikes going for scores. This was the first time he connected with a quarterback, however.

Gesser is confident that the team will be focused and ready to go when UCLA comes calling next week.

"We had a seven game win streak this season and we can get a three game streak easily," Gesser said. "We know we're capable of bouncing back, and we will bounce back, and we'll come out next week ready for UCLA."

WSU's loss, coupled with Stanford's upset of UCLA, has thrown the Pac-10 race into chaos. The Cougars and Ducks are 7-1 while UCLA and UW are 6-1, and Stanford 5-1.

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