TCU had to rally again to win the Alamo Bowl on Thursday night.
But this time, the No. 15 Horned Frogs trailed by “only” 18 points, not 31, before they started their comeback in a 39-37 victory against No. 13 Stanford at the Alamodome.
Cole Bunce kicked a 33-yard field with 3:07 left and safety Innis Gaines intercepted a K.J. Costello pass at the Stanford 44 on the Cardinals' last possession, sealing TCU's second Alamo Bowl win in three years before a crowd of 57,653.
The Horned Frogs stormed back for a 47-41 triple-overtime victory against Oregon in the Alamo Bowl two years ago, rallying from a 31-0 halftime deficit.
“The bottom line to it is we need to start faster,” TCU coach Gary Patterson said after Thursday night's game. “If you want to win a championship, whether it's the Alamo Bowl or Oklahoma or anybody else you play, you can't dig a hole for yourself against good football teams.
“You know, we fought back tonight, and especially right before the half, I felt we had a chance because we got back in the ballgame and we were going to get the ball (at the start of the second half).”
TCU, which lost to Oklahoma in the Big 12 title game on the first Saturday of December, finished 11-3 and improved to 3-0 in its series against Stanford (9-5). The Cardinal finished runner-up to USC in the Pac-!2.
Patterson praised TCU's seniors, who won 40 games during their four-year careers.
“For me, it's been a blessing to be a part of it,” Patterson said. “I love them just like I told them in the locker room, the whole senior group. The next group up, they can't drop the ball. This group worked too hard to get us where we were, and we've got some big games starting out next year.”
The Horned Frogs trailed 21-3 midway through the second quarter before senior quarterback Kenny Hill, voted the game's offensive MVP, scored on a 6-yard run to cut the deficit to 21-10 with 3:06 left in the half. Hill threw two TD passes, ran for one and had a scoring reception.
“It feels really good,” Hill said about ending his college career with a come-from-behind victory. “In the first half, we didn't play bad, just not how we needed to play. To come back and win with this group of guys, who they accepted me the minute I came in, it feels great. It means everything to me.”
TCU senior linebacker Travin Howard was named the Alamo Bowl's defensive MVP for the second time in three years.
The Horned Frogs scored on the first possession of the second half to keep the heat on the Cardinal. TCU's TD came on a 27-yard pass from wide Desmon White to Hill, who sped in the end zone untouched.
The scoring play started with Hill completing a backward pass to White. White took a few steps before throwing back to Hill, who streaked down the left sideline for the TD. The extra failed, leaving Stanford ahead 21-16.
The Cardinal responded on its next possession when Bryce Love, who ran for 145 yards and two TDs on 26 carries, slipped through the middle of the line for a 69-yard TD. Jet Toner added the PAT to put Stanford up 28-16.
Not to be outdone, TCU carved out a nine-play, 79-yard scoring drive on its next possession. The march ended with Hill hooking up with White for an 11-yard TD with 5:51 left in the third quarter. Bunce kicked the extra point to cut TCU's deficit to 28-23.
Stanford gave itself some breathing room on its next possession when Toner kicked a 27-yard field goal, putting the Cardinal up 31-23 with two minutes remaining in the third period.
Things looked bleak for the Horned Frogs a few minutes later when a Stanford pinned them back at their 7, but they got out of the hole in spectacular fashion. Hill hit Jalen Reagor in stride on a long pass that Reagor turned into a 93-yard TD with only 16 seconds gone in the fourth quarter. Reagor's TD reception is the longest in Alamo Bowl history.
Hill's pass to Garrett Altman on the two-point conversion attempt fell incomplete, leaving Stanford clinging to a 31-29 lead.
The Horned Frogs finally took their first lead of the game when White returned a punt 76 yards for a TD, putting TCU on top 36-31. Bunce converted the extra-point kick.
“You know, the punter left it in the air hanging,” White said. “I believe he outkicked his coverage, and I just got in there, I saw green and I just took off running.”
Stanford took its last lead, 37-36, on Costello's 4-yard pass to JJ Arcega-Whiteside, who set an Alamo Bowl record with three TD receptions.
“First of all, Gary Patterson is a phenomenal football coach,” Stanford coach David Shaw said. “Got an outstanding program. We all kind of knew how this one was going to go. Got two teams that fight and scrap and never quit. It was going to be whoever made the most plays was going to win the game, and that was TCU tonight.
“Once again, proud of our guys for how we fight. If there's anything that's a calling card, that's what it is. Whether we're up, we're down, whether we're playing well, we're not playing well, we're going to fight all the way to the end. We did that again tonight. Just didn't make enough plays and gave up too many plays.”
The Horned Frogs outgained the Cardinal 488-369 in total offense, finishing with 147 yards rushing and 341 passing.
Stanford led 21-3 in the first half before TCU's offense finally got untracked, mounting a nine-play, 76-yard drive that ended with Hill's 6-yard TD run, cutting the deficit to 21-10.
The Horned Frogs' TD came on the possession after Stanford went ahead 21-3 on K.J. Costello's 14-yard scoring strike to Arcega-Whiteside with 7:24 remaining in the half. The TD capped an 11-play, 53-yard drive that consumed 6:06.
The TD reception was the second of the first half for Arcega-Whiteside, who hooked up with Costello for an 18-yard TD that put the Cardinal up 14-3 with 1:51 left in the first period. The seven-play, 70-yard drive began on the possession following a 38-yard field goal by Cole Bruce that cut Stanford's lead to 7-3 with 6:01 remaining in the opening quarter.
Stanford took a 7-0 lead on a 15-yard run by Love with 8:42 left in the first quarter. Safety Frank Buncom set up the score with a 37-yard interception that gave the Cardinal a first down at the TCU 23.Toner converted all three extra-point attempts for Stanford in the first half.
The first half was relatively even statistically, with the Horned Frogs outgaining the Cardinal 167-160 in total offensive yardage. Each team ran 32 offensive plays in the first two quarters.
TCU had 96 yards rushing on 13 carries, and Stanford ran for 74 yards on 18 attempts. Costello completed 9 of 14 passes for 86 yards and the two TDs. Hill hit 10 of 19 passes, with two interceptions, for 71 yards.