TCU holds off Wolfe, Northern Illinois in Poinsettia Bowl

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

rushing leader.

TCU In Bowls

TCU Horned Frogs
TCU made its eighth bowl appearance in the last nine seasons on Tuesday. In the 32 years before that, the Horned Frogs played in just two bowls -- the 1984 Bluebonnet and 1994 Independence. The year this run of success began (1998) was the year current head coach Gary Patterson first arrived on campus. Patterson was defensive coordinator from 1998-2000.
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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

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 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.