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Washington State Undefeated with Unheralded Players
Courtesy: Washington State Athletics
Release: 10/19/2001
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Associated Press Writer

SPOKANE, Wash. - When Washington State went to the Rose Bowl after the 1997 season, the Cougars were led by Ryan Leaf and other marquee players.

This season's No. 19 Cougars have gone undefeated with a group of unknowns - and even some players who aren't on the roster.

Picked to finish last in the Pac-10 Conference after winning only three league games since 1998, Washington State (6-0) leads the conference with a 4-0 record.

The Cougars play host to Division I-AA Montana State on Thursday night at Pullman. The game was scheduled as a replacement for Washington State's game against Colorado, which was canceled after the Sept. 11 attacks.

The last time a Cougars team was in the Top 25 was in 1997, when Leaf led the way to a 10-2 Rose Bowl season.

This year's team is led by junior quarterback Jason Gesser and wide receiver Nakoa McElrath, a senior who made his first start this season.

The Cougars are first in scoring in the Pac-10 and fourth nationally, averaging 42 points. Their total offense average of 466 yards is No. 1 in the league and sixth in the nation.

Coach Mike Price has fashioned a winner with journeymen - some of whom were on the January 1998 Rose Bowl roster - and hardworking walk-ons.

"We've always encouraged walk-ons," said Price, who himself was a walk-on quarterback at WSU in the mid-1960s. "The walk-ons have really been good."

Josh Moen is one.

A senior and fourth-year walk-on, Moen blocked a punt that was returned for a touchdown Saturday in a 45-39 upset of then-No. 23 Stanford.

You won't find Moen's picture or profile in the WSU media guide, but the Pac-10 on Monday named him its special-teams player of the week after his blocked punt and two tackles.

Another is sophomore kicker Drew Dunning.

Dunning has hit 11 of 13 field-goal attempts and 30 of 32 extra points. He won a scholarship on the practice field by hitting a 42-yard field goal, becoming one of three kickers on scholarship.

"Drew Dunning is a walk-on and has done a great job as our kicker," Price said Tuesday. Before the scholarship kick, "He looked at me and said 'Show me the money' and he kicked it straight. He definitely earned a scholarship at that time."

Moen nearly left school this year because of finances, but an aunt offered to pay for his final year, Price said.

"The Rose Bowl team didn't play any better than this team has played," Price said. "The Rose Bowl team finished very strong."

Price has gotten his star players from several corners.

Mike Bush, the Cougars' leading basketball scorer, walked on last spring to become a starting wide receiver. He caught two passes for touchdowns against the Cardinal and averages 90 receiving yards.

When starting running back Dave Minnich had knee surgery the week before the Stanford game, freshman Allen Thompson stepped in. Then Thompson sprain an ankle in the game, and little-used junior John Tippins carried 13 times for 75 yards.

Tippins, a junior college transfer, was nearly kicked off the team after vigorous arguments with Price over playing time.

"They were between me and him and what I thought he needed to do, to the point he was almost dismissed," Price said. "We had some nice, long, heated discussions. I feel good he's back."

During his junior year, before he was the second pick in the NFL draft by San Diego, Leaf contended for the Heisman Trophy. Price said Gesser, also a junior, isn't a top candidate this year, "but give him time. Before he graduates, he will be."

Washington State Cougars Athletics