Bears Come up Short in Slugfest

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Jason Gesser was bothered by a well-publicized rib injury last week. He must have rehabbed by watching replays of Muhammad Ali-George Foreman, 1974.

Ali may have invented the rope-a-dope, but Gesser and No. 18 Washington State did a pretty snappy rendition Saturday at Memorial Stadium, laying low in the early going before delivering a fierce offensive flurry and holding on for the victory, 48-38.

The Cougars (4-1, 1-0 in the Pac-10) overcame a 21-9 halftime deficit by dropping 29 third-quarter points on the Cal defense, and did just enough in the fourth quarter to ensure a determined Bears rally fell short. Cal (3-2, 0-1) dropped its second consecutive home game, its fourth straight conference opener and its fourth in a row to WSU.

In a classic Pac-10-style game that produced as close to an individual duel as football allows, Gesser showed no ill effects of the rib fracture that had made his status for the game questionable.

The senior passed for 431 yards and four touchdowns on 28-of-44 attempts and outgunned Cal quarterback Kyle Boller, who nearly matched him for most of the day before coming up just short late.

Boller shined early while leading the bears to a 15-point second quarter lead, and finished with 29-of-47 for 371 yards, all career highs, and three TDs, but threw two fourth-quarter interceptions that thwarted the Bears' comeback.

"I felt I played well, but not well enough to win, and that's all that matters," the senior QB said. "The stats mean nothing after a loss."

While displaying improved judgment through most of the game, Boller twice forced high, floating throws into double coverage that were picked off to end critical Cal drives.

"Kyle threw the ball up there in the middle of the field a couple of times trying to make a play and it didn't work out," Tedford said. "He got hit pretty good as he threw it."

Cal started impressively, with a 38-yard run by Joe Igber setting up a 25-yard touchdown pass to Lashaun Ward, and scored twice more in the second quarter, powered by Joe Igber's 121 total yards in the first half.

Igber finished with 111 yards rushing and a touchdown, while the much-maligned receiving corps had a banner day, catching nearly everything thrown their way. Jonathan Makonnen grabbed seven balls for 136 yards and a score, while Geoff McArthur caught seven for 96.

The Bears' defense frustrated the Cougars, holding WSU scoreless on its first five possessions before giving up a TD and a field goal late in the second. Although the Cougars gained 198 yards to Cal's 191, the Bears looked firmly in control.

That changed immediately after halftime, as receivers Devard Darling, Mike Bush and Jerome Riley found more and more room in the Cal secondary and WSU marched to consecutive touchdowns on its opening possessions in the third period, while the Cal offense managed just 27 yards and two first downs.

"They protected (the QB) much better in the second half and got guys open down the middle," Cal coach Jeff Tedford said. "They have a great corps of receivers, and if you don't get pressure, they'll get open."

Gesser, who said he gave coach Mike Price "no choice" on whether to let him play, passed for 276 yards and three TDs in the second half.

"My timing came along real well in the second half," Gesser said. "The first half, I just wasn't making the right passes"

Darling, Bush, and Riley combined for 18 catches, 373 yards and three second-half touchdowns, each torching Cal defensive backs for a catch of 40-plus yards.

"It was on us. We didn't cover our assignments and you see what happens," cornerback James Bethea said. "The secondary is supposed to make plays, and we didn't. I have to intercept those fades (in the endzone), I can't fall down. That's crap."

After relying on their special teams for game-breaking plays so far this season, the Bears found themselves on the flip side of that coin. Erik Coleman blocked Tyler Frederickson's punt and returned it 9 yards for a touchdown and a 31-21 lead, and the Bears risked being blown out.

Cal answered the challenge, regaining its rhythm and its imagination on the ensuing drive, when two deep Boller passes to Geoff McArthur set up a lateral to left guard Mark Wilson, who rambled 3 yards into the endzone for his first career score.

The Cougars answered in less than a minute with another Gesser TD, and a Boller interception on the first play of the fourth quarter put the pressure on the Cal defense, which wrestled the momentum back with a desperate stand.

Facing fourth and less than an inch on the Cal 27-yard line, WSU went for the knockout punch, but Gesser's sneak attempt fell short, and the Bears responded with a Boller TD to Makonnen.

Darling's fumble on the ensuing kickoff gave Cal first and goal at the Cougars' 9, and a Mark Jensen field goal tied the game at 38 with 7:33 to go.

It was as close as it would get as WSU put the clamps on the game. Another impressive scoring drive engineered by made it 45-38, and Jason David picked off Boller to set up a 48-yard field goal for the final nail in the coffin.


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