HOUSTON (AP) – Justin Watts had scored exactly one touchdown in his career at TCU before the Texas Bowl.
TD No. 2 for Watts helped the Horned Frogs end the season with a bowl victory for the third straight season, something they haven’t done in almost 70 years.
The backup running back scored the go-ahead touchdown early in the fourth quarter to help TCU to a 20-13 win over Houston on Friday night in the Texas Bowl.
“I was pretty excited considering I hadn’t scored since the first game of the season,” a beaming Watts said. “It feels good to score a touchdown, it’s like hitting a home run.”
The junior wove through the defense and danced into the end zone for an 8-yard touchdown run that made it 17-10 and gave TCU (8-5) its first lead of the game against its old Southwest Conference rival.
He and Ryan Christian split carries against Houston (8-5) after starter Joseph Turner injured his knee in the first quarter and didn’t return.
“It’s been like that all year,” coach Gary Patterson said. “That’s been the thing with our football team, we’ve just been able to overcome adversity and win ball games.”
Quarterback Andy Dalton also ran for a touchdown for TCU. It was 1936-39 when the Horned Frogs last had a run of bowl victories as long as this one. They started their current bowl winning streak with a win over Iowa State in this bowl in 2005 when it was known as the Houston Bowl.
Dalton was 21-of-30 for 249 yards with one interception. Watts and Christian combined for 88 yards rushing on 12 carries.
A 15-yard leaping reception by Jimmy Young on third down kept the drive that ended in Watts’ touchdown going. Young outjumped Carson Blackmon to grab the ball and managed to keep his left leg in bounds as he landed.
It was initially ruled an incomplete pass, but the call was overturned after a review by officials.
The Cougars had a chance to tie it with less than 30 seconds to play but Case Keenum’s pass sailed just beyond the fingertips of Jeron Harvey in the end zone. He had two more shots at the end zone, but the ball fell short on the first one and Chase Ortiz hit him as he threw the second one to end the game.
Keenum was hurried and harassed by TCU most of the night and was sacked five times. He was 23-of-38 for 335 yards. Donnie Avery had 10 receptions for 120 yards.
Playing without coach Art Briles, who left in late November to coach at Baylor, the Cougars extended their bowl losing streak to eight games. Their last bowl win came in the 1980 Garden State Bowl.
Interim coach Chris Thurmond led a Houston team that often looked confused and shaky against TCU.
“What these kids have done in the last 30 days in unbelievable,” Thurmond said. “They have lost their leadership, they had to adjust to new leadership but they never missed a beat … There was a couple of things that could have got easy for them to get frustrated during the game but they didn’t, they just kept playing.
“So please when you write the story of this game, the story is the effort and the heart of these guys because what they have been through in the last 30 days was tough,” he said.
The Horned Frogs got to the Houston 2 later in the fourth quarter, but had to settle for a 35-yard field goal after a holding penalty followed by a 6-yard loss by Christian on third down.
Houston made it 20-13 with a 32-yard field goal by T.J. Lawrence with 1:57 remaining. Houston had a first down from the TCU 14, but Keenum was sacked by Ortiz for a 5-yard loss on third down to bring out Lawrence.
The Cougars tried an onside kick after the field goal, but TCU’s Brian Bonner recovered the ball.
Houston attempted a 48-yard field goal midway through the fourth quarter but it sailed wide right.
TCU’s Chris Manfredini hit a 29-yard field goal with 6:30 remaining in the third quarter to tie the game at 10-all.
The Horned Frogs shut down Houston’s star running back Anthony Alridge. He entered the game with 1,568 yards rushing for the season and managed just 28 yards on 15 carries Friday.
A 39-yard field goal by T.J. Lawrence 10 seconds before halftime put Houston ahead 10-7.
TCU’s Dalton capped an 11-play, 75-yard drive with a 3-yard touchdown run early in the second quarter that tied the game at 7-all.
Dalton, who grew up in the Houston suburb of Katy, was the game’s most valuable player.
“The play that was called gives me the option to keep it or give it,” he said. “I probably should have given it, but I kept it and I was able to get into the end zone.”
Dalton broke TCU’s single-season record for completions with 208 when he found Shae Reagan for a 9-yard reception later in the second quarter. The previous mark of 207 was set by Max Knake in 1993.
Andre Kohn’s 67-yard catch and run near the end of the first quarter put Houston ahead 7-0. Keenum had to scramble away from Ortiz to get the ball off, giving Kohn time to get down the field and ahead of the defense.