Behind the play of sophomore QB Casey Pachall, the 18th ranked TCU Horned Frogs edged the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs 31-24 in yet another exciting San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl. The seventh annual game marked the fourth time in five years that the game had been decided by 10 points or less.
Playing their final season in the Mountain West, the Horned Frogs (11-2) found themselves trailing the Bulldogs (8-5) three different times in the game, including a 24-17 deficit halfway through the fourth quarter. But as he did most of the regular season, Pachall picked up his team and led them on game-tying and game-winning drives late in the fourth quarter. The sophomore QB completed 15 of 29 passes for 206 yards and threw the game-winning touchdown pass to Skye Dawson, the game’s Offensive MVP, with 4:26 left to play.
Louisiana Tech, who came into the bowl game having won seven straight games, proved that they came to play as they put the first points on the scoreboard after engineering a 12-play, 67-yard drive. The very next possession, the offense once again marched down the field, this time going 63 yards in nine plays, but squandered a scoring opportunity when sophomore RB Hunter Lee fumbled the ball in TCU territory.
After TCU evened the score with a field goal of their own to start the second quarter, Louisiana Tech continued their dominance on the offensive line of scrimmage, countering with a quick 59-yard drive, capped by a 2-yard touchdown pass from QB Colby Cameron to WR Quinton Patton to regain the lead at 10-3.
Undone by turnovers in the first half, Louisiana Tech missed some great opportunities and set up some great ones for TCU, as kicker Matt Nelson missed a 43-yard field goal attempt, and Cameron threw an interception at midfield that TCU’s Greg McCoy returned to the 25-yard line. Four plays later, RB Ed Wesley ran the ball in for TCU’s first touchdown, and evened the score at 10-10 with less than a minute to play in the half.
TCU came out of halftime full speed ahead, as they capitalized on Waymon James 34-yard kickoff return and marched the ball down the field before RB Matthew Tucker pounded his way into the endzone to give TCU its first lead of the game.
Then came one of the bizarre, exciting plays that fans have come to expect at San Diego’s bowl games through the years. After marching the ball to midfield, Louisiana Tech’s drive stalled and they had to punt the ball back to TCU. But on the punt, TCU’s Brandon Carter fumbled the ball and the Bulldogs’ Josh Cuthbert recovered it at the TCU 12-yard line. Three plays later, Lee atoned for his first-half fumble and scored to tie the game at 17.
As Louisiana Tech’s turnovers hurt them in the first half, TCU ran into their own problems at the end of the third quarter when Pachall was picked off by Quinn Giles, and three plays later Cameron hit WR Myles White with a 61-yard touchdown pass, giving the Bulldogs their third lead of the game.
From there, the TCU offense flexed their muscle, engineering an 18-play, 72-yard game-tying touchdown drive that took up over nine minutes of the fourth quarter. The defense then stepped up as they forced a quick three-and-out from Louisiana Tech to get the ball back with 6:24 remaining in the game. Starting from their own 39-yard line, the Horned Frogs once again pushed the Bulldogs’ tired defensive line on their heels, setting up the 42-yard touchdown pass from Pachall to Dawson to put them up for good. Overall, the TCU offense controlled the ball for 12:42 in the fourth quarter.