PASADENA, California (Ticker) -- Washington State rode the gimpy leg of Jason Gesser all the way to the Pac-10 Conference title.
Gesser threw two touchdown passes in a 31-point first half and Jermaine Green ran for 112 yards and a score as the seventh-ranked Cougars clinched a berth in the Rose Bowl game with a 48-27 victory over UCLA.
Washington State (10-2, 7-1 Pac-10) missed an opportunity to wrap up its first Pac-10 title since 1997 when it was stunned by Washington, 29-26, in overtime on November 23. But the Cougars made the most of the second chance on Saturday and will return to Pasadena for their next game on January 1.
"This is huge for our program. Going to the Rose Bowl two times in five years is really something for our program, for our players, coaches and our school," Cougars coach Mike Price said. "We're not a fluke. We're back with our second 10-win season in two years."
A loss would have given the Pac-10 title to Southern California, which still can earn an at-large berth in the Bowl Championship Series when the final standings are released Sunday.
Gesser injured his right ankle and leg in the loss to Washington, and his status for Saturday's game was in question. But the senior limped on to the field with a bulky brace and his presence was a clear inspiration, even if his statistics were not spectacular.
"My leg does hurt, but just being here makes everything worth it. I was not going to let the pain get me down," Gesser said. "I was not going to let my dream pass me by. Football is all about playing with pain. There was no point in my game where my ankle did not hurt."
Gesser completed 15-of-24 for 247 yards and two touchdowns with two interceptions. He completed TD strikes of eight yards to Devard Darling and 22 yards to Jerome Riley in the first half, sparking a string of 24 straight points by the Cougars. Gesser was removed from the game midway through the final quarter and was warmly greeted by his teammates.
"I would never say I couldn't expect Jason to do something because that's the type of guy that he is," Price said. "The harder it is for him, the better he seems to get. It was remarkable."
At a school that had Ryan Leaf, Drew Bledsoe and Mark Rypien as quarterbacks, Price said that Gesser has "got to be the MVP of Washington State history."
Knowing that Gesser might not be ready, the Cougars were ready with some imagination and some solid defense. They scored on a trick play less than a minute into the game and their final score was a 25-yard interception return by safety Erik Coleman.
UCLA (7-5, 4-4) allowed 541 yards Saturday and surrendered 100 points in its final two games against USC and the Cougars.
"We've got a young football team and we made some mistakes that hurt us," UCLA coach Bob Toledo said. "Our kids gave a good effort. They lost to a good, experienced team."
Freshman quarterback Drew Olson completed just 13-of-27 passes for 163 yards. He threw TD passes of 39 yards to Junior Taylor in the second quarter and 27 yards to Mike Seidman in the third, but was intercepted twice.
UCLA managed just 53 rushing yards on 27 carries.
"Even when our runners got past the line, their linebackers were right there," said Olson, who was sacked four times. "This is the most I've been hit in any game this year."
The Cougars took a 7-0 lead just 37 seconds into the game when running back Collin Henderson took a pitch from Gesser, stopped, and threw a 66-yard touchdown pass to a wide-open Mike Bush.
UCLA safety Ben Emanuel II tied it three minutes into the game, returning a tipped pass from Gesser 41 yards for a touchdown.
The Bruins responded with a trick play of their own, taking a 14-7 lead on a TD pass from flanker Jon Dubravic to Manuel White with 7:33 left in the opening period.
The Cougars went briefly to backup quarterback Matt Kegel in the first half, but Gesser soon returned and threw his TD pass to Darling. Gesser connected on his TD pass to Riley before Drew Dunning kicked a 30-yard field goal to increase the lead to 24-14.
"I was (ticked) when they took me out," Gesser said. "The coach just wanted to ask me if I was OK."
The Cougars gambled again midway through the second quarter and it backfired. Dunning tried a pass out of field goal formation on fourth down and his pass fell incomplete.
But Washington State was not dismayed as Green raced 80 yards for a touchdown on a draw play, increasing the lead to 31-14.
Olson threw a 41-yard touchdown pass to Junior Taylor with 41 seconds left in the second quarter to cut the Cougars' halftime lead to 31-21.
Washington State's John Tippins scored on a one-yard run in the third quarter and Dunning kicked a 37-yard field goal in the fourth.