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Croak: TCU 51, BYU 50

Cougars cough up big lead, lose in OT to Horned Frogs

PROVO — For the second week in a row, TCU gathered enough firepower to mount a comeback and sprint to a thrilling overtime league win. This time BYU knows how Utah feels as a Horned Frog victim.

Fired up by backup quarterback Jeff Ballard's two fourth-quarter touchdown passes, TCU overcame an 18-point deficit to defeat BYU 51-50 in overtime Saturday before 58,320 in LaVell Edwards Stadium. The Horned Frogs left Provo 3-1 overall and 2-0 in league play. BYU dropped to 1-2 overall and 0-1.

There were 101 points, 177 plays, 1,089 yards and plenty of controversy when this donnybrook ended. Parity in the MWC? Try splitting it by a hair. TCU now holds the comb.

"If that's how his (Bronco Mendenhall) teams are going to play in his tenure here, they are going to have some great football teams," TCU coach Gary Patterson said.

"I give TCU credit, they made the plays to win," Mendenhall said.

Like two punch-drunk boxers flailing at one another for four hours and 45 minutes, neither TCU nor BYU could stop one another in the end. What looked like a solid BYU win through three quarters, in which the Cougars dominated in nearly every category, this one turned into a race to the finish line by the nose of a fumbled football.

The overtime: BYU's John Beck used one play and just seconds to hit Todd Watkins with a 25-yard touchdown pass in overtime, but a rolling snap to Cougar holder Riley Weber resulted in a muffed PAT and 50-44 Cougar advantage.

On TCU's overtime turn, Ballard overcame a first-play illegal procedure penalty to kickstart the Frogs to the Cougar 3 on a pass completion and pair of runs. There, Cory Rodgers met Chris Hale at the 2-yard line and lunged for the goal where BYU linebacker Justin Luettgerodt appeared to knock the football out of Rodger's hands and a BYU player recovered in the end zone. Game over, BYU wins.

Nope, not at all.

The official on the spot confidently signaled Rodgers scored a touchdown. A review of the play by officials in the press box was inconclusive to change the outcome. In a statement released after the game, referee Gerald Wright said the tape review "was not irrefutable" to the ruling on the field. TCU wins.

"They said I was in, so I felt I was in," Rodgers said.

An AP still photograph of the fumbled ball showed how close it looked to a turnover (see photo on D2).

"I thought he fumbled before the goal line," BYU linebacker Aaron Wagner said.

But for the Cougars, that play didn't cost them the game. Any number of misfires did them in, including giving up a 100-yard kickoff return to Rodgers after taking a 14-0 lead on a pair of Beck touchdown passes to Zach Collie and Watkins.

The muffed PAT in overtime alone did the Cougars in. Ironically, it came after holder Riley Webber saved a bad snap from Luettgerodt to set up the game-tying field goal. Then, BYU's defense ended flat.

BYU led 41-29 with 8:35 to play in the game when TCU capped its comeback by racing on top 44-41 on a 35-yard touchdown pass from Ballard to Rodgers. With 1:25 left in the game, it was the first time the Cougars trailed. Beck then led the Cougars on an eight-play, 59-yard drive in 85 seconds to set up a 39-yard Jared McLaughlin field goal to create overtime.

But the Cougars were in trouble much before that. With four starters on defense sidelined (corners Nate Soelberg and Justin Robinson, lineman Michael Marquardt, linebackers Cameron Jensen and Paul Walkenhorst), TCU was unstoppable late in the second half, scoring 29 in the final 17 minutes of the game.

BYU's defense had previously held TCU without an offensive touchdown nearly three quarters, then everything caved in.

"From the middle of the third quarter, they scored every time they touched the ball," Watkins said.

Ballard was 8 of 12 for 150 yards and two touchdowns. Starter Tye Gunn was 16 of 38 for 198 and no scores.

Ballard's entry into the game coincided with BYU's defensive injuries.

Jensen, BYU's defensive leader, has an MCL injury to his knee but made spot appearances in crunch time.

"They made adjustments and we didn't make enough plays," Mendenhall said. "I'm proud of our team. We need to do a better job making plays that make a difference in a close game."

TCU's Rodgers scored four touchdowns, two by air, one by rushing and another on a kickoff return. That lifted the Frogs to overcome the loss of Gunn (shoulder) in the second half.

"That's the worst thing that could have happened to us," Watkins said. "That other guy came in and made all kind of plays."

The loss took away from an otherwise outstanding Cougar offensive performance.

"I thought our offense moved the ball consistently from beginning to end," Mendenhall said. "They overcame adversity in critical situations and the leadership of our quarterback and the resolve of the offense was exceptional."

BYU outgained TCU 641 to 475 yards, had 32 first downs to 25 for the Frogs and converted seven of 16 third downs. Didn't matter.

Beck had a career passing day against what was the MWC's top defense, completing 30 of 51 passes for 517 yards and five touchdowns. He was picked twice, both on tipped balls. His pass efficiency for the game was 168.49. Beck's 517 surpassed his best ever, a 390-yard effort against Boise State in 2004. Beck had three touchdown passes in his first six completions of the game.

"He was poised and gained confidence. I'm proud to be his coach," Mendenhall said.

Watkins had seven catches for 176 yards and three scores, but he also dropped a first quarter gimme bomb from Beck that could have ended up in an 81-yard score. Another long pass was just off Watkins' finger tips. The senior fumbled another long reception after the catch, and run while trying to run over a TCU tackler just before halftime at the Frog 43. At the end of regulation, the winning touchdown pass hit him in the chest on a fade.

"Any of those plays, if I make them, then it would have helped out our defense," Watkins said.

"It was hard to walk off that field," Beck said. "But what is done is done. We expect to do better against San Diego State. This team has character. We've improved over last year, we've improved over last week."


E-mail: dharmon@desnews.com