An elated Jason Gesser stood before several hundred cheering Washington State fans yesterday, 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 in Pasadena, Calif., 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.
"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.
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 Pacific-10), which played in the Rose Bowl following the 1931 and 1997 seasons, probably will face Big 12 champion Oklahoma on New Year's Day. The bowl pairings will be announced today.
"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 cross-town 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.
* OKLAHOMA 29, COLORADO 7: In Houston, Nate Hybl threw two touchdowns passes and Quentin Griffin rushed for a championship game-record 188 yards and two touchdowns as the eighth-ranked Sooners beat the 12th-ranked Buffaloes to win their first Big 12 title.
The victory probably will send Oklahoma (11-2) to the Rose Bowl against Washington State.
The Sooners played for the Big 12 title in 2000 and lost to Kansas State before going on to beat Florida State for the national championship in the Orange Bowl.
"Being the Big 12 champs, we'll go wherever they want to take us," Oklahoma Coach Bob Stoops said. "All the bowls are excellent, and it will be a great environment."
Brian Calhoun, starting for injured running back Chris Brown, ran for 122 yards for the Buffaloes, who were trying to become the first back-to-back Big 12 champions after last year's 39-37 victory over Texas. But it wasn't to be.
Hybl threw touchdown passes of three yards to Trent Smith in the first quarter and 21 yards to Mark Clayton in the second quarter as the Sooners took a 13-0 halftime lead.
Colorado kicker Pat Brougham missed field goals of 41, 32 in the first half and 33 yards in the third quarter.
Jeremy Bloom gave Colorado brief momentum in the third quarter with an 80-yard punt return early in the quarter, cutting Oklahoma's lead to 13-7. The Sooners then scored 16 straight points to ice the game.
* MARSHALL 49, TOLEDO 45: In Huntington, W. Va., Byron Leftwich got up from a hit that sparked a fight to throw two late touchdowns, including a 40-yarder with 49 seconds left, as the Thundering Herd won the Mid-American Conference championship game.
Leftwich (H.D. Woodson High) went 32 of 42 for 404 yards and four touchdowns to overshadow the four rushing touchdowns by Toledo redshirt freshman Trinity Dawson, who finished with a career-high 130 yards.
The game was marred by a third-quarter fight that started when Leftwich took a late hit from linebacker David Gardner after an interception.
Marshall lineman Steve Peretta then went after Gardner, and Toledo lineman Lantz Jeudy retaliated against Peretta. Several Toledo players rushed onto the field and players from both teams exchanged shoves before order was restored. Gardner was called for a personal foul. Peretta and Jeudy were ejected.
Gardner "hit me high, so honestly, it wasn't dirty," Leftwich said. "It was unfortunate that the fight may have taken something away from the game."
Leftwich, who has 4,019 passing yards this season, became the conference's all-time leading passer with 11,654, surpassing the 11,299 yards set by Tim Lester from 1996 to '99.
Marshall (10-2) won its fifth championship since rejoining the league six seasons ago. The exception was last year, when Toledo won, 41-36, after trailing 23-0.
"Last year, after we lost we all had a sick feeling," Leftwich said. "This year, we couldn't let them come in here and make us feel like that again."