A game of inches: TCU falls 31-28 to Kansas State in OT of Big 12 Championship



Kansas State players celebrate as TCU’s Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson (1) sits in the end zone with Dee Winters (13) after Kansas State defeated TCU in overtime of the Big 12 Conference championship game, Dec. 3, 2022, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

By Micah Pearce, Staff Writer

A field goal was the deciding factor in No. 3 TCU’s first loss of the season to No. 10 Kansas State, 31-28.

In overtime, senior quarterback Max Duggan’s reaching arm missed the end zone by an inch. Junior running back Kendre Miller did the same.

“We were, literally, an inch away from winning the game and going 13-0,” said Dykes.

The Frogs’ defense kept the Wildcats out of the end zone in their overtime possession, but they couldn’t block Ty Zentner’s field goal attempt.

Head coach Sonny Dykes called a timeout to review Duggan’s reach, but he said he wasn’t sure if Miller’s was reviewed or not. He didn’t use that as an excuse for the loss, though.

“We have to be able to convert inside the 1 [yard line] on two downs,” Dykes said. “We gotta figure out a way to get that ball in the end zone.”

Duggan shared the same sentiment.

“[The officials] didn’t call me in, so I didn’t score,” he said.

The Frogs opted to go for the touchdown instead of the field goal during that overtime drive, which is 3 points that could have kept the game in another overtime.

“If it’s fourth-and-three, obviously we kick the field goal,” Dykes said.

The Frogs missed out on multiple opportunities to score, some within reach of the end zone and some that would have come with big yardage.

Duggan overthrew to wide-open senior wide receiver Taye Barber, who could have run into the end zone for a 50-or-more-yard play. Later, junior wide receiver Blair Conwright was in the open field, but he was overthrown.

Duggan started the game 6-7 on pass attempts. On his next eight, he completed one.

The Horned Frog’s quarterback completed his 16th attempt to junior wide receiver Quentin Johnston, but as Johnston turned to run, a Wildcat defender ripped the ball free, causing a fumble.

Later in the game, Duggan threw a lot of passes that could have easily been intercepted.

One pass, which was in the end zone for Johnston, was intercepted, ending a drive that could have put the Frogs up by 3 with a good extra point.

“That was a big turning point,” Dykes said. “There was some miscommunication, maybe, between Quentin [Johnston] and Max [Duggan].”

Dykes said another big moment in the game was the offensive pass interference call on freshman wide receiver Jordan Hudson. Duggan’s pass found Hudson, who leapt into the end zone, but it was called back because he pushed off of the defender to make himself more open.

However, Duggan finished the game with 110 yards rushing and one rushing touchdown and 251 yards passing and a passing touchdown. His first drive with the Frogs’ offense went 94 yards down the field and ended with a 1-yard pass to Barber.

Duggan wouldn’t be able to get the Frogs into the end zone until the end of the third quarter when he handed the ball to Miller, who took the ball in 6 yards to make the score 21-17 in favor of Kansas State after the extra point went through.

Duggan’s most impressive drive was the last one the Frogs had in regulation. They were down 28-20, the same score they trailed by against Baylor.

The Frogs likely had one last chance with 4:47 left in the game. They got the defensive stop they needed. They just needed to reach the end zone and convert for 2 points afterward.

Easier said than done.

Duggan took the game into his own legs.

He opened the drive with a 15-yard run for a first down.

His pass to Miller lost the Frogs 2 yards and his next pass was incomplete to Johnston. So Duggan ran again, this time for 13 yards.

Then again for 19 yards, resulting in a fourth-down conversion.

After the Hudson pass was called back due to offensive pass interference, senior running back Emari Demercado picked up 5 yards, putting the Frogs in a second-and-20 situation.

Duggan ran for 40 yards down the field. First-and-goal for the Frogs on the 8-yard line.

Fittingly, Duggan gained the 8 yards himself.

TCU quarterback Max Duggan kneels in the end zone after rushing for a touchdown against Kansas State. He ran for 95 total yards on this drive. Dec. 3, 2022, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/LM Otero) (AP)

The Frogs went for the 2-point conversion and a completed pass from Duggan to tight end Jared Wiley tied the game at 28 with 1:51 left in the game.

Duggan almost rushed the entire length of the field. The only other contributor was Demercado with his 5 yard gain.

The senior said he was “just trying to make a play to give us a shot to go to overtime.”

Despite an unbelievable individual performance, Duggan was hard on himself because the Frogs couldn’t come out with a win.

“Today we fell short,” Duggan said. “I didn’t make enough plays to help us offensively [and that] put us in that spot.”

Dykes said three of Duggan’s runs in that drive were called, but the other three were improvised.

“[Kansas State] did a nice job of covering the receivers up and having some safeties,” he said. “When they did that, that gave Max [Duggan] the opportunity to pull the ball down and make some plays.”

Johnston praised the senior for his grit and leadership.

“Every time he runs, you see him on the ground,” he said. “But he continues to get up and fight each play.”

Dykes said the Horned Frog QB gives it “everything he’s got.”

“We get him back on Sundays and it’s like we tape him back together and do what we can to get him to the next game,” said Dykes.

Out of the 13 games the Frogs had won this season, the one they wanted to win the most was this one.

“I’m not [doing] the best, obviously,” said Johnston. “We’ve been winning all season and we just took our first loss of the season.”

“It just sucks,” said senior linebacker Dee Winters. “The fact that we got here [to the championship] and we weren’t able to pull it off.”

Duggan took it the worst, fighting off tears throughout the whole press conference.

“There’s nothing more that I want than to bring this school a championship,” he said. “It hurts the most that [we’ve] been down so low and [we] got so close and fell short.”

Johnston, as a captain on the team, stayed on the field to watch Kansas State celebrate.

“I wanted to be there to see the confetti fall, whether we won or lost,” Johnston said. “I wanted to take in that hurt and embrace it.”

He said he wanted to bring that into the locker room to motivate the team for future games. As a junior, he can return for next season.

Despite the emotions the players are feeling right now, they know what they need to do.

“We’re going to use this as motivation to come out and prepare for the next game,” Winters said.

“I wanted that one really bad.”

Duggan has made himself a case for the Heisman Trophy. After every game, Dykes said how important he has been to the team as a leader on and off the field. His story this season will be one that won’t go untold as a TCU legacy.

TCU supports him.

The Frogs don’t know who they’ll be playing next. That team, whoever it may be, will have to face the wrath of a TCU team that just lost the most important game of the season.

The new College Football Rankings will come out today at 11 a.m. CT.

If the Frogs remain in the No. 3 spot, they’ll likely play Michigan in the Fiesta Bowl in Arizona, giving them a chance at the national title. If they fall to No. 4, they’ll play No. 1 Georgia in the Peach Bowl in Atlanta.

If they drop out of the rankings, they’ll be in the mix for a number of high profile bowl games.

For tonight, Duggan and the rest can only wait.

“If we get in, we would give one heck of a fight,” Duggan said.