SAN DIEGO -- Nothing against the good folks who run the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl, but when your season usually ends in a BCS game in January, it can feel a little like a comedown to be invited to San Diego in December.
There are bigger bowls and bigger stadiums. TCU has been to them.
Last year, the Horned Frogs played in the Rose Bowl. The year before, the Fiesta Bowl. This year, they had to make the most of their invitation to the Poinsettia Bowl despite a 10-2 record and the Mountain West Conference title.
It wasn't what they'd hoped for, but they made the most of it, beating Louisiana Tech 31-24 at Qualcomm Stadium and savoring a win that came after two fourth-quarter touchdowns.
"We did have expectations of getting into the BCS, but it didn't happen," TCU wide receiver Skye Dawson said. "We knew we had to come out and play hard since we didn't make it to the BCS."
Dawson's 42-yard touchdown catch from quarterback Casey Pachall broke a tie with 4:26 left and represented TCU's only lead of the game. But the Horned Frogs actually might have sealed the win earlier with an 18-play, 72-yard drive that wore down Louisiana Tech's defense.
Until that point, the Bulldogs had looked good enough to pull an upset. They were 10-point underdogs, but they controlled the game in the first half and led 24-17 after three quarters.
Their quarterback, Colby Cameron, was 21 of 43 passing for 264 yards and two TDs. But they missed a number of chances to score in the first half, and that's what they lamented afterward.
"When you play a good football team like TCU and you have as many opportunities to distance yourself from them as we did in the first half, it's going to come back and bite you," said Louisiana Tech coach Sonny Dykes.
And it did. The Horned Frogs' three-pronged rushing attack of Ed Wesley, Waymon James and Matthew Tucker pounded away at the Bulldogs in the second half and finished the game with 156 combined yards rushing.
Louisiana Tech had no reason to feel blue. The Bulldogs had a 24-17 lead midway through the fourth quarter and appeared to put TCU in a fourth-down situation at the Louisiana Tech 8-yard line. But a pass interference call gave the Horned Frogs a new set of down, and they eventually converted on a one-yard run by fullback Luke Shivers.
At the very least, the Bulldogs, who started the season 1-4 and finished 8-5, had a taste of a bowl game. It was their first bowl appearance since 2008, and two of their players distinguished themselves earlier in the week when they gave their bowl gifts to kids involved in the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
Wide receiver Quinton Patton and linebacker Adrien Cole both donated gift cards valued at 300, and Cole gave his Tourneau Poinsettia Bowl watch (a 97 value) to the foundation during a sponsored event several days before the game.
"They're just material things," Cole said. "They need it more than I do."
That gesture didn't go unnoticed by TCU coach Gary Patterson.
"I was impressed by the class their kids showed," he said.
Patterson also noted how well the Bulldogs played given their lack of experience in bowl games. This was only the fifth bowl game in school history.
"They fought for 60 minutes," he said. "I think you have to give them a lot of credit, and the fact they haven't been in one of these games before and we have."
In fact, the Horned Frogs have been in much bigger games. But this season, they had to make do with poinsettias instead of roses.
As consolation prizes go, it wasn't too bad.