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December 19, 2006

TCU kicks off bowl season with dominant win

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SAN DIEGO -- The most exciting ballcarrier on the field, at times, was TCU quarterback Jeff Ballard.

It certainly wasn't Northern Illinois' Garrett Wolfe, who ended his career looking more like a third-stringer than the national rushing leader.

Penned in by a bunch of tough Horned Frogs, Wolfe was held to 28 yards and No. 25 TCU won a Poinsettia Bowl mismatch against Northern Illinois 37-7 on Tuesday night.

"We stopped him before he got started," said TCU end Tommy Blake, the leader of one of the nation's best defenses.

The Horned Frogs stopped Garrett cold and TCU's offense kept trotting back onto the field. Ballard ran for three touchdowns and threw for another.

Ballard looked more like a running back as he scored on runs of 10, 1 and 6 yards. He threw a 6-yard TD pass to tight end Brent Hecht and finished with 258 passing yards.

There was a 100-yard rusher -- TCU's Lonta Hobbs, who had 109 yards and one TD on 18 carries.

"You know, Garrett is a great back," NIU coach Joe Novak said. "But I don't care if you're Superman, if you're not getting them blocked, you're not going anywhere. We didn't block them well enough to give Garrett a chance."

Wolfe, a senior from Chicago, came in leading the nation with an average of 158.3 yards rushing and 178.9 all-purpose yards.

The Horned Frogs, though, were fourth nationally in run defense after allowing only 67.6 yards per game. TCU kept alive its string of not allowing a 100-yard rusher, one of only four teams to do so this year. Blake had two of TCU's five sacks.

NIU had terrible field position most of the night, and TCU brought its safeties close to the line to stuff the box against Wolfe.

"We did what we could but they were all over the place," Wolfe said. "It gets frustrating but with the type of mind-set I have, the next play could be a big play. The opportunities came far and few."

Wolfe, who carried 20 times, came dangerously close to his career-low of 24 yards set in his first game, the 2004 season opener. The Huskies had only five first downs and 60 yards of total offense, compared to 23 first downs and 456 yards for TCU.

Wolfe was thrown for losses on four of his 10 carries in the first half, when accounted he for just 8 yards.

TCU (11-2) won 11 games for the third time in four years, all under coach Gary Patterson. NIU finished 7-6.

The Huskies had minus-13 yards and went three-and-out six straight times before Dan Nicholson completed a 62-yard pass to Matt Simon on third-and-12 from the Huskies' 11-yard line in the second quarter. All that did was set up a missed 51-yard field goal by Chris Nendick.

Asked what halftime adjustments he made, Novak said: "We tried to get a first down. We didn't do very well at that."

Patterson said Wolfe had poise, patience and great vision, but added that the Horned Frogs had worked on taking away the cutback.

NIU's only score came when John Tranchitella returned a blocked punt 32 yards with 14:14 left. Jarret Carter blocked Brian Cortney's punt and the ball bounced back toward Cortney's hands, but Tranchitella swooped in and grabbed it.

NIU blocked two punts and a PAT.

Hobbs scored on a 4-yard run on TCU's first drive.

Early in the second quarter, Ballard dropped back to pass on third-and-9 from the NIU 10. He scrambled left, cut inside and was hit hard as he dived into the end zone.

"It was a big hit, but it was worth it," Ballard said. "I'll take the punishment."

Chris Manfredini kicked a 25-yard field goal as the clock expired for a 16-0 halftime lead.

Ballard scored twice in just less than 3 minutes in the third quarter for a 30-0 lead. He ran a 1-yard keeper, then added a 6-yard run when he rolled left, couldn't find a receiver and tumbled into the end zone.

"We couldn't believe how much we were playing out there," Ballard said. "Our defense was lights out. They've been awesome all year and they've won many ballgames for us."

Ballard was 19-of-29 passing. Nicholson was 6-of-18 for 80 yards, with one interception.

The Poinsettia Bowl, sponsored by the San Diego County Credit Union, drew only 29,709 to 70,000-seat Qualcomm Stadium on a cold night.

Among the fans were San Diego Chargers running backs LaDainian Tomlinson, who went to TCU, and Michael Turner, who played for NIU.

With TCU winning, Turner will have to wear Tomlinson's No. 5 Horned Frogs jersey around Chargers headquarters.

For more coverage of TCU, visit PurpleMenace.com.



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