TCU prevails in overtime of Cheez-It Bowl in battle of inept offenses

TCU football arrives in Phoenix for the Cheez-It Bowl

The TCU football team arrived in Phoenix on Saturday for the Cheez-It Bowl. The Frogs take on Cal at Chase Field on Dec. 26.
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The TCU football team arrived in Phoenix on Saturday for the Cheez-It Bowl. The Frogs take on Cal at Chase Field on Dec. 26.

People expected TCU and Cal to put on a defensive battle in the Cheez-It Bowl. Offensive meltdown may be more apt.

Whatever the description, TCU and Cal went to overtime to settle the Cheez-It Bowl on Wednesday night at Chase Field. And TCU prevailed with a 10-7 victory after the first overtime.

Thank junior kicker Jonathan Song, who drilled a 27-yard field goal to end it. TCU (7-6) finished a season plagued by injuries with a winning record.

“This will be one of those seasons you’ll remember as much as the Rose Bowl year because of what these guys had to go through and everything that they had to put up with and fought back to get to a winning season,” coach Gary Patterson said. “That’s hard to do.”

Patterson improved to 7-0 against Pac-12 schools and has now won 10 of his last 13 bowl games. Oh, and he’s also now 9-0 when his teams throw for less than 100 yards. The Frogs finished with just 28 yards passing.

But all that matters in the end is a win.

TCU had a chance to win it in regulation, but junior kicker Cole Bunce had a 44-yard field goal attempt sail wide left as time expired. Among the more bizarre things that happened is Patterson subbed Bunce and Song multiple times before settling on Bunce to attempt the kick.

“During bowl practices on the right hash, Cole would be pulling the ball. And guess what? They felt like that Jonathan didn’t have the leg on the grass to kick it as far as we did,” Patterson said. “So then they talked me back into putting Cole back in. So, obviously, I got an opportunity to tell them they were wrong on the headset when we got done, but we got another chance and did it.”

A 7-7 game headed to overtime after that missed field goal. It was somewhat fitting for a game that featured more interceptions and punts than scores. TCU almost ended it early in overtime, too, when linebacker Jawuan Johnson had an interception that he returned 72 yards but couldn’t reach the end zone.

But, as another bizarre wrinkle to the game, TCU had a sideline interference penalty on Johnson’s interception. So that forced TCU to start its first overtime drive on its own 40 instead of 25. But running backs Sewo Olonilua and Emari Demercado did enough to get TCU into chip-shot field goal range.

Olonilua was the star of the night for the Frogs, ending with a career-high 194 yards rushing and one TD on 32 carries. He earned offensive MVP honors.

“I just knew we had to run the ball,” Olonilua said. “That was the game plan going in even then. We stuck to it. Our O-line gave us some big holes, and I just ran through them.”

Not much positive can be said about the passing games on either side.

The teams combined to throw nine interceptions, breaking the previous Cheez-It Bowl high of six between Arizona and New Mexico in 1997.

TCU had just 24 passing yards at the end of regulation, which would have be an all-time low in the Patterson era. The previous low? November 2006 when TCU finished with 25 passing yards at New Mexico.

But the Frogs had 4 yards passing in overtime for 28. That’s the fewest since the 2006 game.

Somewhat stunningly, TCU entered the game 8-0 in games when it has under 100 yards passing in the Patterson era. The last time the Frogs pulled it off was last season at Texas Tech, a 27-3 victory with just 85 yards passing.

TCU fifth-year senior Grayson Muehlstein struggled against Cal’s defense, which is ranked No. 16 in the country. Muehlstein was 5 for 18 for 8 yards passing with four interceptions and no touchdowns when he exited the game for a series in the fourth quarter. Muehlstein got up limping after a run, paving the way for prized freshman recruit Justin Rogers to make his college debut.

But Rogers is still dealing with a drop foot condition and Muehlstein returned to the game.

“Grayson came back, but he couldn’t run,” Patterson said. “So we needed to run the read because they weren’t taking the quarterback, but he couldn’t run. So they just played the running back.”

Muehlstein tied Casey Printers for most interceptions in a bowl game. Printers threw four in the Bowl at the Astrodome in 2001.

Muehlstein wasn’t alone in turning the ball over. Cal quarterback Chase Garbers threw three interceptions in the opening half, and Chase Forrest threw an interception in the fourth quarter and another in overtime.

The first half featured seven points, seven punts and six interceptions.

“It’s one of those games where you just end up -- who ends up surviving at the end of the year,” Patterson said. “It wasn’t just a battle with both of us; it’s just been a whole season that we’ve survived. So I can promise you this: I am glad that it’s over. I’m glad it’s not the playoffs and we have to play another game. I can tell you that.”

For TCU’s seniors, it’s a nice way to go out.

Defensively, several seniors had memorable moments. Ben Banogu, L.J. Collier, Ty Summers and Arico Evans all had sacks in their final games. Jawuan Johnson and Niko Small each had interceptions. Ridwan Issahaku had the second-most tackles with six.

“Our defense, we came together and played hard. It was one last game,” Banogu said. “As a group of seniors, we made a decision a couple of weeks ago, when we were 4-6, that we didn’t want to go out just the wrong way. So we made that decision, and we fought back and we put ourselves in great spots.

“It was a total team effort.”

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