Mandatory Credit: Photo by Mat Otero/AP/Shutterstock (13647928bf) Quarterback Max Duggan (15) falls short of a touchdown as Kansas State defensive end Felix Anudike-Uzomah (91) and cornerback Julius Brents (23) make the stop during overtime of the Big 12 Conference championship NCAA college football game, in Arlington, Texas Big 12 Championship Football, Arlington, United States – 03 Dec 2022
No. 10 Kansas State 31, No. 3 TCU 28 (OT)
The 2022 season has been a magical ride for the TCU Horned Frogs. Head coach Sonny Dykes’ first year at the helm was never really supposed to look this way – most pundits picked the Horned Frogs to finish somewhere near the middle of the Big 12, competing for a bowl bid while being led by quarterback Chandler Morris. It was difficult to project whether Dykes was the right guy to replace legendary head coach Gary Patterson, and most in Fort Worth did not expect a decisive answer to that question before the end of this season.
When TCU lost Chandler Morris due to injury in the opener, Sonny Dykes knew they had a more-than-capable backup in Max Duggan and that all hope wasn’t lost – but if forced to answer honestly, few fans of the Horned Frogs anticipated more than a potential top half finish in the conference. Instead, the Frogs entered Saturday’s Dr Pepper Big 12 Championship 12-0, one game away from the program’s first-ever College Football Playoff berth despite being led by a quarterback who was never supposed to play and a first-year coach.
The Horned Frogs’ comeback win over Kansas State on Oct. 22 was impressive. Their defense held the Wildcats scoreless for the entire second half, pulling ahead late while injury forced Kansas State to turn to third-string quarterback Jake Rubley. To beat the Wildcats for a second time was always going to be a massive challenge, and would require a better start for TCU than they had in the previous meeting.
Sure enough, TCU stepped up in the early going. The Horned Frogs’ defense forced a punt to start the game, and Max Duggan immediately showcased why he’s gone from a backup quarterback to a Heisman contender in just three months. TCU’s first drive was a journey, covering 92 yards over 13 plays, including an impressive deep ball to future NFL star Quentin Johnston, a fourth-down conversion, and a touchdown throw to Taye Barber to put the Frogs ahead 7-0 at the five-minute mark of the first quarter.
After the Horned Frogs missed a field goal on their second chance with the football, Kansas State’s offense began to click. Will Howard’s deep pass to Malik Knowles set the Wildcats up deep in TCU territory, and a 6-yard touchdown pass to tight end Ben Sinnott tied things up in the final seconds of the first quarter. After the teams exchanged scoreless possessions early in the second quarter, Kansas State found the end zone again after Malik Knowles’ huge jet sweep run set up quarterback Will Howard’s touchdown run for a 14-7 K-State lead.
TCU’s offense struggled for much of the first half following their opening drive touchdown. The situation only got more frustrating when a long completion to Quentin Johnston became a fumble recovered by the Wildcats with under four minutes to play before halftime. Despite the offense’s inability to get a ton going, the Horned Frogs’ defense made the plays necessary to keep TCU within a touchdown. Kicker Griffin Kell drilled a 42-yard field goal to cap off a Horned Frogs’ drive just 29 seconds before the half, sending the Big 12 Championship into the break at 14-10 with the title hanging in the balance.
The Horned Frogs took the football to start the second half and almost faced disaster on their first series. A Max Duggan incompletion was initially ruled a fumble that would have resulted in a safety, but replay review overturned the call and allowed TCU to punt the football away. Kansas State’s offense made the Frogs pay anyway, quickly extending the lead after a three-play drive capped off by redshirt freshman R.J. Garcia II’s first touchdown catch of the season. Despite having faced deficits on countless occasions en route to 12-0, frustration began to mount and boiled over for TCU defensive back Bud Clark, who was lucky not to be ejected after throwing a punch at Ben Sinnott after the score.
Momentum finally shifted on the Frogs’ next drive, despite going three-and-out deep in their own territory. Kansas State punt returner Phillip Brooks muffed the return of Jordy Sandy’s punt, setting up TCU deep in Wildcat territory. Horned Frogs’ running back Kendre Miller made K-State pay, punching in a 6-yard touchdown run to make it 21-17 Wildcats in the third. TCU followed the touchdown with a defensive stop, and quickly pushed the ball downfield again when Max Duggan found Quentin Johnston wide-open in K-State territory. But when Duggan tried to find Johnston again on a fade route in the back of the end zone just three plays later, he was picked off – giving the Wildcats back the football with a lead early in the fourth quarter.
Kansas State’s star running back Deuce Vaughn delivered what felt like a crushing blow on the ensuing Wildcats’ possession, scampering 44 yards through the TCU defense for a touchdown and a 28-17 lead with 11:27 to go. Needing points in a hurry, the Horned Frogs would settle for a field goal on their next drive to pull within 28-20 with eight minutes to play in the fourth quarter.
TCU would take back over on offense with 4:47 to go, needing a touchdown and a two-point conversion to tie the game. The drive that followed felt like a Heisman moment for the Frogs’ senior QB Max Duggan who battled fatigue with heroic run after heroic run, willing the Horned Frogs to a tie after 95 yards rushing and a successful two-point conversion with 1:51 to play. TCU’s defense came up with the stop they needed from there, pushing the game to overtime at 28-28 for one last chance to win the Big 12 Championship.
The Horned Frogs started the overtime period with the football and came within inches of taking the lead on two different runs by Max Duggan and Kendre Miller, respectively. Both plays were looked at closely under replay, and both were ruled short – despite an over-the-top angle that made it appear that Kendre Miller clearly broke the plane of the end zone on third down. Sonny Dykes elected to go for it on fourth and goal from just outside the goal line, but the second consecutive run by Miller was stuffed. Six plays later, Kansas State kicked a game-winning field goal and secured their third Big 12 Championship in program history.
College football has a certain charm to it. Despite the landscape of the sport changing with rampant conference realignment and the growing effect of the transfer portal, moments like Saturday’s Big 12 Championship remind us why we keep coming back. Look no further than the emotional outpouring from the athletes, coaches, and fans on both sides as Saturday afternoon’s game came down to the wire as to why.
Nobody would have blamed Max Duggan if he’d chosen to transfer elsewhere after Chandler Morris was named the Horned Frogs’ starter at quarterback. There is no shame in chasing opportunity and looking out for oneself, but Duggan never saw it that way. Instead, the senior from Iowa talked about what it meant to graduate a Horned Frog and potentially leave a legacy at the university that meant the world to him. As fortune would have it, Max Duggan’s love for his school was rewarded with a season that’ll never be forgotten. Despite the Frogs’ loss, it’s difficult to imagine Max Duggan paying for another meal on the town in Fort Worth for as long as he’s around.
Duggan finished the afternoon 18-for-36 for 251 yards, one touchdown, and one interception. He also ran for 110 yards and another score on 15 gutsy carries, doing everything in his power to will the Frogs to a win. Those numbers will be forgotten, as will Quentin Johnston’s 139 yards receiving – but the emotion the Frogs played with won’t, and their story isn’t over yet.
It remains to be seen what becomes of these Horned Frogs’ College Football Playoff chances. Given the competitive nature of their overtime loss, it is difficult to imagine the committee replacing the Horned Frogs with a two-loss team like Alabama. TCU won’t find out its fate until tomorrow.
As for first-year head coach Sonny Dykes, the jury is in. TCU’s got their guy.