TCU quarterback Max Duggan (15) throws against Michigan during the second half of the Fiesta Bowl NCAA college football semifinal playoff game, Saturday, Dec. 31, 2022, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

Horned Frogs Top Michigan in Fiesta Bowl Shootout

The Horned Frogs became the first Big 12 team to win a CFP game with their win over the Michigan Wolverines Saturday night.

The teams combined for the most points ever scored in a Fiesta Bowl and saw TCU advance to the National Championship with a 51-45 win.

Horned Frogs Jump in Front Early

Michigan received the opening kick and immediately began to march down the field. Running back Donovan Edwards took the first play from scrimmage 54 yards on the ground to move the Wolverines into TCU territory. Michigan moved inside the 5-yard line but winded up with a 4th and goal from the 2-yard line. A “Philly Special” Esque play went sideways for the Wolverines, and TCU forced a turnover on downs.

The Horned Frogs faced a three and-out on the ensuing drive but jumped on a late J.J. McCarthy throw on the opening play of Michigan’s second drive. TCU’s Bud Clark ripped away McCarthy’s pass and ran it back 41 yards to give the Horned Frogs the game’s first points.

McCarthy and the Michigan offense were held to a three-and-out on the next drive, which returned Heisman Trophy Finalist Max Duggan to the field for a second drive. Unlike the first, the TCU offense looked to be in rhythm, putting together a 12-play drive capped by a Duggan rushing touchdown. The Horned Frogs found themselves up 14-0.

Goal Line Blunder Costs Michigan

Michigan finally got on the board with a field goal which was followed by a Duggan interception. The Wolverines saw a big opportunity to get back in the game and immediately took a shot to the endzone. McCarthy threw it deep and connected with Roman Wilson who appeared to be in for the score. However, instant replay overturned the call and determined Wilson was down right in front of the goal line. Michigan hoped to punch it in on the next play, but Kalel Mullings fumbled at the goal line and TCU recovered.

The teams again traded empty possessions, until TCU put together another lengthy scoring drive, with Taye Barber reaching the end zone to extend the TCU lead.

Michigan found itself facing a large deficit in the final moments of the half. However, the Wolverines snuck onto the edge of field goal range and sent out Jake Moody to try and reduce the deficit with a field goal. Moody set up for a 59-yard field and drilled it to give Michigan a sliver of momentum heading to the locker room. Moody’s 59-yarder is the longest in CFP history as well as Michigan football history.

Third Quarter Madness for Horned Frogs and Wolverines

The second half was not quite like the first. TCU looked well on their way to the CFP National Championship heading into the third, leading 21-6. Michigan had different plans. The Wolverines opened the second half scoring with another Moody field goal and then forced Duggan into throwing his second interception of the game, just his sixth of the year.

Michigan took just three plays to capitalize as they finally found the endzone. McCarthy connected with Ronnie Bell for the 34-yard score and Michigan was suddenly just down five. That score also kicked off an unprecedented stretch of scoring. The following eight drives resulted in seven touchdowns. Only one of those drives was longer than three plays. Emari Demercado scored on the ground for TCU and then the Horned Frogs returned another interception for a touchdown courtesy of Dee Winters. TCU was quickly up 18.

The Wolverines took just three plays to answer back, thanks to a 20-yard McCarthy touchdown run. TCU only needed three plays to answer themselves, as Duggan again scored from one yard out. Michigan gained some ground as Kalel Mullings avenged his first-half fumble with a score, followed up by a TCU fumble to end the quarter.

The third quarter ended with six touchdowns, three turnovers, and 44 points later. A TCU lead that grew to as big as 19 at one point in the quarter was down to 11 and Michigan had gained momentum heading to the final quarter.

Final Quarter for a Trip to the Championship

The Wolverines took just two plays to cut the lead to three as McCarthy connected with Roman Wilson for another touchdown following the TCU turnover. It looked like Michigan would get the ball back with a chance to take their first lead, as the Horned Frogs faced a big third down.

Duggan stood in the face of pressure yet again and delivered a short pass to Quentin Johnston, who made one quick move on a Wolverine defender before heading down the sideline 76 yards for the touchdown.

The Michigan defense made a big stop after a long punt return set up TCU inside the red zone. However, the Wolverines were able to force a field goal and keep the game within two scores.

McCarthy led a gutsy nine-play drive, including two big third down conversions, to get Michigan back into the endzone and cut the lead to five.

The Horned Frogs bled the clock but were forced to punt with under a minute, giving McCarthy and Michigan one last chance with just 45 seconds on the clock.

Another Michigan Blunder Costs Championship Trip

The Wolverines were hoping for a miracle, trailing by five with under a minute to play. The disappointment from last year’s CFP Semifinal was all too familiar in the back of the minds of Michigan fans watching on.

TCU held the Wolverines on three consecutive plays, bringing up a 4th and 10.

McCarthy set up in the shotgun, but the snap did not make it all the way back to him. The ball squirted around, eventually finding Donovan Edwards who flipped to ball up to Colston Loveland. Loveland was swarmed by TCU defenders and tackled at the line of scrimmage essentially ending the game.

Or so we thought.

Play was stopped briefly, much to the confusion of the ESPN broadcasting crew. It was then announced that the play was under review for potential targeting. It then became clear why, as it appeared that TCU’s Kee’Yon Stewart lowered the crown of his helmet as he tackled Loveland.

The call was reviewed for several moments but ultimately confirmed as a clean play.

TCU regained possession and took a knee to head to the National Championship.

TCU Advances to CFP National Championship

The Horned Frogs are the first Big 12 team to advance to the CFP National Championship. TCU will have a chance to win its first championship since 1938.

The 96 points scored in the CFP Semifinal at the Vrbo Fiesta Bowl was the second most points scored in any CFP game in history as well as the most points ever scored at the Fiesta Bowl.

Max Duggan again put up impressive numbers for the Horned Frogs. He ended the day with 225 passing yards and four total touchdowns. He was aided by Quentin Johnston, who had 163 receiving yards, as well as Emari Demercado who ran for 150 yards.

TCU will take on Georgia in the CFP National Championship Game on January 9 at 7:30 p.m. on ESPN.

About Matt Quartararo

Matt is a fourth-year journalism major specializing in sports media and is also completing a sports management certificate. Starting in the Fall 2023 semester, Matt has served as a sports coordinator with WRUF. He also participates in sports broadcasting, providing play-by-play for a variety of Gators sports.

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