Forget a spot in the top four.
The TCU Horned Frogs were just trying to keep a piece of the Big 12 championship in their cold, cold hands Saturday.
It may be all they have left after a 34-30 just-get-out-of-town victory on Kansas’ freezing field Saturday. They may or may not keep their newly minted No. 4 place in the College Football Playoff rankings.
“If we do, I’m thankful for it,” quarterback Trevone Boykin said. “If we don’t, I’m still thankful because as of right now, we’re still a 9-1 football team trying to win a Big 12 championship.”
The Horned Frogs (9-1, 6-1) remain so in part because of Boykin. He led an offense that seemed reborn in the second half, patiently moving the Frogs for points, and his run for a first down on fourth-and-1 allowed them to run out the final 2:09 and close the door on a whole lot of gremlins.
“There were some interesting plays. I’ll have to tell you that,” TCU coach Gary Patterson said, laughing in spite of himself. “It never felt out of reach. But it was interesting. I’ll tell you that.”
He doesn’t have to tell anyone who watched.
Kansas (3-7, 1-6) got breaks and made breaks. The Jayhawks looked like they had the ball trained to bounce their way.
Receiver Nigel King tipped the ball to himself about five times, it seemed, on a 78-yard catch and run for a touchdown for a 27-17 lead in the third quarter. Nick Harwell caught a ball that caromed off of him and linebacker Paul Dawson for a first-and-goal in the first quarter that led to a 13-7 lead. Jimmay Mundine sidestepped tackles and tight-roped the sideline for a 67-yard catch that set up a touchdown for a 20-10 lead.
Somehow, a KU punt went unblocked in the first quarter. And a botched field goal turned into a first down.
“You start thinking, ‘Uuuh, it may not be our day,’ ” Patterson said. “But we fought back and found a way.”
Boykin, who threw for 330 yards and became TCU’s all-time leader for passing yards in a single season, led touchdown drives the first two times the Frogs had the ball in the second half, and Cameron Echols-Luper returned a punt 69 yards for a touchdown that gave them the lead for the first time since it was 7-0.
“As soon as I caught it, I knew I had a chance to go score,” Echols-Luper said. “Cause he kicked it so deep, he out-kicked his coverage. Every time I went out there, I just heard the thump off his foot, how hard he was punting it. On that one, I knew he was going to kick it deep. ... Those 10 blocks I had, it was all for them.”
Given a chance with the lead, the Horned Frogs’ defense had to do the rest. Kansas got a field goal off a turnover at the 10-yard line — another one of those gremlins — to cut the lead to 34-30 with 7:42 left, forced a punt, and got the ball back with 4:09 and a chance to drive the field for the win.
But Chris Hackett’s fourth interception in four games stopped the possession, and the Horned Frogs didn’t give it back.
“It goes back to coaching,” Hackett said. “We have great coaches. They kept telling us, ‘Fight.’ The seniors on the team — Marcus Mallet, Sam Carter, Kevin White — they kept their composure. I kept mine, also. We just talked as a team. We kept each other going, ‘This game is not over, fight to the end.’
“We got a couple things that went our way at the end.”
Boykin kept on the fourth-and-1 read option and barely got the yard he needed to the Kansas 12-yard line. No field goal was necessary. No need to give the ball back to Kansas.
“We’re glad to be 9-1,” Patterson said. “There wasn’t any style points here except a team that fought back and won a ballgame.”
It was a win, but a win by only four points against a three-win team. Even on the road and in 32-degree weather, it might not make the best impression on the same committee that was impressed by the Horned Frogs’ dominating victory against Kansas State last week.
“For the kids, I wish we’d have won by more,” Patterson said.
But the Big 12 championship, or a share of it, is still in reach for the Horned Frogs. They are still tied for first place. Now they have a weekend off. Their next game is on Thanksgiving against Texas.
It could be another chilly night.