Compounding the pain of the loss at Utah in November of 2008 was the uncertainty over where the 10-2, #11 in the nation Frogs would be bowling. The BCS was closed to TCU (but only for one more year), and the Las Vegas Bowl made their intentions loud and clear that they would invite BYU over TCU, despite the throttling the Cougars had taken at the hands of Patterson's squad earlier that season. It looked as though, for the second time in three years, TCU would be travelling to the Poinsettia Bowl to take on a no-name team. But then some handy wheeling & dealing by Poinsettia Bowl committee, WAC & MWC brass and some cooperation from the Pac 10 and Humanitarian Bowls produced one of the sexiest matchups of the entire bowl season as the Frogs would face undefeated, #9 Boise State in San Diego on December 23, 2008. The two teams had been relentlessly compared and contrasted all season long by the media (a pattern that would continue throughout the next two seasons), and would finally get the chance to face each other on the field for the first time in 5 years.
Six days before the game, on December 17th, TCU legend Sammy Baugh passed away at the age of 94, and suddenly everyone knew the Frogs needed to win this game in his honor. They didn't look especially inspired when the game began, though, as the Broncos scored on each of their first two possessions- sandwiched around a Horned Frog three & out- to take a 10-0 lead with barely half of the first quarter gone by.
The next three possessions all looked promising, but resulted in nothing for the Frogs. The first drove 39 yards to the Boise State 31 before Jeremy Kerley threw an interception, leaving a throw to Shea Reagan short that looked like it might've been a touchdown. The next advanced to the Boise 33 before Kerley was stuffed short on a 4th & 2 run. Next the Frogs drove 68 yards to the Boise 25 before Andy Dalton's pass was picked off by Bronco defensive lineman Byron Hout- who returned it 68 yards to the TCU 11, only a heroic effort by Ryan Christian saving a touchdown on the play. Boise did manage to tack on a field goal, though, to extend their lead to 13-0 with 5:55 left in the first half.
After another promising possession by TCU fizzled just outside of field goal range, it looked as though they'd be heading to the locker room down two touchdowns. This was especially frustrating given how the defense had clamped down in the second quarter- holding the Broncos to negative 8 yards in the frame. But they got one last shot, getting the ball back with 1:22 remaining in the half and no timeouts. Dalton then connected on four straight passes- two each to Walter Bryant and Jimmy Young- to reach the red zone. With just :24 seconds left and a field goal attempt looking more and more likely, Aaron Brown used two ridiculous cuts to weave his way into the endzone. Ballgame: on. Going to halftime, Boise's lead was cut to 13-7.
The two teams traded field goal attempts in the third quarter, with Boise's Kyle Brotzman missing from 38 and Ross Evans hitting from 32 to bring the Frogs to within 13-10 at the end of the third quarter. On TCU's first possession of the final quarter, we finally got to see the intended game plan come to fruition as they drove 80 yards in 10 plays, chewing up 4:31 of game clock. When Joseph Turner dove over the goal line on a 17-yard touchdown run with 8:51 remaining, the TCU crowd went absolutely BANANAS and Evans' PAT gave them a 17-13 lead.
Boise drove 46 yards to set up a Kyle Brotzman field goal that make the score 17-16, but that is the last production of the night from their offense. Their next snap, which came with just 1:53 remaining, was a Kellen Moore pass that was intercepted by Stephen Hodge- who would end the night with 11 tackles, 3 of them for a loss, a sack, an interception and 47 yards on two kickoff returns. They did get one last gasp effort, getting the ball back with :06 seconds left, but Matt Panfil intercepted a lateral attempt and the game was finished.
Despite all of the criticism of TCU's schedule strength, this game was their FOURTH game of the season against an undefeated, Top 10 team. They went 2-2 in those games, which is pretty good for as young a team as they were in 2008. The win vaulted them up to #7 in the final rankings, laying the groundwork for them to climb the polls toward the eventual BCS berth a year later. The train ride back to downtown San Diego was a pretty rowdy time, as was the bar at the team hotel. The entire place got quiet and then cheered every time the game highlights came on the TV, and standing ovations for Patterson, Dalton and Jerry Hughes amongst others.