SAN DIEGO (AP) -- 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
Penned in by a bunch of tough Horned Frogs, Wolfe was held to 28
yards and No. 25 TCU won a San Diego County Credit Union 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
"We did what we could but they were all over the place,"
Garrett 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
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 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.