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Courtesy: Washington State Athletics
2001 Sun Bowl teammates Billy Newman and Jason Gesser
Jason Gesser and Billy Newman Remember the 2001 Sun Bowl
Courtesy: Washington State Athletics
Release: 04/24/2014
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Memories and laughs were shared Wednesday night inside the EPIC sports restaurant at Northern Quest Resort & Casino.

Jason Gesser and Billy Newman joined fellow Cougars to look back on the 2001 Sun Bowl victory versus Purdue during the annual Great Games in Cougars history event as part of Spokane Week.

Gesser, a junior quarterback on the 2001 team and Newman, a redshirt senior defensive back, shared their thoughts and memories while watching game footage with host Bud Nameck.

As they reflected over a decade later, both said that 2001 marked a springboard season for the program.

And the seeds of the success were planted the previous year.

Coming off a 4-7 season in 2000, the program's third consecutive losing campaign, the Cougars were a consensus choice to finish last in the Pac-10 Conference entering the 2001 season.

But a closer look at the 2000 season reveals three losses in overtime, including to No. 22 Arizona and No. 7 Oregon.

"We played tough but we didn't know what it meant to win," said Newman. "We didn't understand how to get over the hump.

"After losing three close games in overtime, I felt like we could go two different directions," Newman added. "We could accept where we're at or we could take accountability and make the Coug Nation proud. We chose the latter."

"We knew we were close in 2000," remembered Gesser. "That's why we had such a good season in 2001. We played together and had tremendous heart, and had a tremendous ability to overcome adversity."

The Cougars began the season with seven straight wins and finished tied for second in the Pac-10. The Sun Bowl victory against Purdue was the first for the program since the 1994 Alamo Bowl and secured the program's third 10-win season in its history.

The WSU defense intercepted Purdue quarterback Kyle Orton four times, including a interception return for a touchdown by Jason David to open the game's scoring. Lamont Thompson, with two interceptions, five deflections and 10 tackles, was named the game's MVP.

"I remember our defense being spectacular," said Gesser. "One thing I think was underappreciated was our defense. You look back at our three 10-win seasons and our defense was phenominal."

The Sun Bowl win capped the first of three straight 10-win seasons as trips to the Rose Bowl and Holiday Bowl were in the program's future.

"We knew we were going to be really good the next year," said Gesser. "It catapulted us into the Rose Bowl season."

Go Cougs!

By Jason Krump

Washington State Cougars Athletics