TCU and Kansas State played a great game in Fort Worth on October 22nd. In that game, the Horned Frogs trailed Kansas State 28-17. But the cardiac Hypnotoads made the comeback. In this classic Big 12 championship on Saturday, TCU trailed again 28-17 into the fourth quarter. It appeared TCU was going to conjure enough late-game magic once again. But the elixir of comeback spells ran dry in Arlington. So it was Kansas State defeating TCU by the score of 31-28 and are the new Big 12 champions.
Horned Frogs Hot Start
After the first game against the Wildcats, Sonny Dykes and his Horned Frogs wanted to start off with a statement. The game script they had for the opening drives on offense and defense worked beautifully. TCU forced a punt by Kansas State and then it was time for quarterback Max Duggan and the offense to take the field. They promptly marched down the field 92 yards in 13 plays to take a 7-0 lead. But from that point on, things got very difficult for the TCU offense. They went eight consecutive drives without a touchdown and only two field goals sprinkled in between.
Wildcats Take Control
Kansas State head coach Chris Klieman had to find a way to disrupt a three-headed TCU offense. The quickest way to do say was to disrupt the line of scrimmage. Especially since he had the best defensive player on the field in Felix Anudike-Uzomah. Uzomah was a force in this game, as he had five tackles, one for a loss. He also added a sack and quarterback hurry. It led a Wildcat effort that also forced two vital turnovers in this game.
But it wasn’t just the Wildcat defense that was the difference in this classic Big 12 championship. This Kansas State rushing attack got rolling, especially late in the game. Until the fourth quarter, running back Deuce Vaughn was bottled up. He had been held to an average of under four yards a carry. However, Vaughn eventually got loose for a 44-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter that put his team up 28-17. Vaughn finished with 130 rushing yards on 26 carries and one touchdown. Quarterback Will Howard did not need to be spectacular in this total team effort. But he needed to avoid mistakes, which is exactly what he did. Howard was an efficient 18-for-32 passing for 199 yards and two touchdowns.
TCU Never Faltered In Regulation
No matter what stat we look at, this classic Big 12 championship was almost dead even. Time of possession was 32 and 28 minutes in favor of Kansas State. Total yards was 469 and 404 in favor of TCU. Kansas State had 20 first downs; TCU had 18. But in the fourth quarter, Duggan and the Horned Frogs were (stop me if you have heard this before) down two scores. When TCU got the ball back with 11:27 remaining, Duggan had just thrown his worst interception of the year. So the stage was set for him to have his Heisman moment. Duggan did not disappoint.
Duggan’s legs were the ultimate difference on two consecutive scoring drives. It was clear Duggan had nothing left after TCU scored the tying touchdown and two-point conversion as he waved off teammates struggling to get back to the sideline. Duggan finished the game 18-for-36 passing with 251 yards, one touchdown, and one costly interception. But it was his 110 rushing yards on 15 carries and another touchdown that kept TCU alive. He became the first quarterback since Deshaun Watson in 2015 to have 250+ yards passing and 100+ in a conference championship game.
Classic Big 12 Championship Has A Classic Ending
However, even in the face of Duggan’s heroics, the Wildcats didn’t flinch. Even after Kansas State was unable to win it on their last drive of regulation. In the overtime period, TCU started with the football and Duggan appeared to have scored an opening touchdown, but the replay confirmed he was approximately three inches short. On third down, running back Kendre Miller (on replay) appeared to have reached the ball over the goal line, but it was never reviewed by the officials.
Dykes opted to try running with Miller again and Kansas State made its biggest defensive stand of the day, denying TCU one last fourth-down conversation in a comeback effort. And ultimately, they denied the Horned Frogs a Big 12 title. During the ensuing possession, the Wildcats calmly marched to the center of the field at the TCU 10-yard line. Kansas State kicker Ty Zenter drilled the 31-yard field goal attempt and the Wildcats secured their first Big 12 championship since 2012. Not only did TCU let this championship slip out of their grasp, but their position in the college football playoff is now in doubt. Will the committee still award the Horned Frogs a spot in the top four after posting an undefeated regular season? Or will it be a repeat nightmare of 2014 for TCU fans all over again?