Remember the Alamo.
It’s almost the state saying here in Texas, and certainly one of the most historic sentences one can utter. It’s a battle cry, a rallying point, an inspiring call. It’s iconic.
For TCU fans, this well-known phrase took on extra meaning two years ago, as their beloved Horned Frog Football team gave its fans something to remember alright, in the form of the biggest comeback in bowl game history and one of the most impressive and enjoyable wins overall.
With the Frogs set to return to San Antonio a week from now, we thought it only fitting that we take a walk down memory lane, and relive one of the most exciting, exhilarating, and memorable wins that TCU has ever been a part of. But we didn’t want to walk alone, so we brought some friends.
What follows is the story of TCU’s comeback win over Oregon in the Alamo Bowl on January 2, 2016, as told by the players who orchestrated it and the fans who witnessed it. From QB Bram Kohlhausen to safety Denzel Johnson, from kicker Jaden Oberkrom to NFL Network personality, and TCU alum, Marc Istook, from the Oregon side (Dan Rubenstein) to the TCU perspective (Melissa Triebwasser and Jamie Plunkett), this is the story of the rise of a walk-on and the close of one of the greatest chapters in TCU Football history.
This is a story to remember.
The wounds of 2014 were still so very fresh. The Frogs had been disrespected in the most painful of ways a year prior, falling out of the playoff hunt in a gut-punch of a way: dropping from number three to six despite whalloping Iowa State in their final game to earn a share of the Big 12 title. But with so many pieces returning, there was light at the end of the tunnel, and plenty of momentum built off of a dominating Peach Bowl win over Ole Miss.
But 2015 would see TCU starting at the top of the polls yet ending with disappointment, as the Frogs suffered through one of the worst injury streaks seen in recent college football history. Despite losing their star wide receiver, their Heisman-caliber quarterback, and twenty-something other starters, Gary Patterson’s team fought and clawed their way to ten wins and earned a spot in the Alamo Bowl, the highest rated non-NY6 game available to the Big 12 conference. The icing on the cake was a date with an explosive Oregon team, led by star QB Vernon Adams.
Trevone Boykin vs. Vernon Adams was the national storyline, which set up what many thought was one of the five or six best bowls of the season.
Marc Istook (NFL Network personality, TCU Alum, ‘98): Coming into the season, you have hopes, and then they’re dashed - once you didn’t have the undefeated season, the magic was gone a little bit, but then you see, ‘hey, we’re going to play in the Alamo Bowl, and we’re playing Oregon’. This is a good team, and a great way to end the season.
Bram Kolhausen (TCU QB 2014-2015): We felt like we were left out. The whole season, we thought we were at least going to get a New Year’s Six Bowl, so it was a little bit of a letdown. But when we found out we were playing Oregon, after watching them on film, everyone kind of knew that this was still going to be a big game.
Denzel Johnson (TCU Safety 2013-2016): The Alamo Bowl is probably the best bowl you’re going to get outside of the New Year’s Six, so we felt pretty good about that. We knew who Oregon was, and we felt like it was a good matchup, and exciting matchup, a matchup we were looking forward to.
The Breaking News:
Trevone Boykin Arrested For Striking Police Officer in Bar Fight Two Days Before Alamo Bowl https://t.co/m1A4J9HjRL— The Big Lead (@thebiglead) December 31, 2015
Melissa Triebwasser (Managing Editor, Frogs O’ War): I woke up to over 100 notifications on my phone.
Marc Istook: I remember driving into work, it’s like 5:00 am, and I’m doing a radio interview. The host makes a joke like ‘watch out or you’ll get punched by your quarterback’, and I didn’t know what he was saying, and then he told me about the whole incident, and my heart just sank. I was sick. You hate any time your team is in the news for bad reasons, but it just felt like, here was a kid who had the great feel good story of Abby, the Iowa State fan, and then this happens. It erases so much good will; it’s such a black eye. At that point, a win or loss in the game felt secondary to how upset I was about the situation.
Jamie Plunkett (Managing Editor, Frogs O’ War): I woke up to about 40 text messages from people in a group chat lamenting the arrest and I had no clue what was going on until I got on ESPN. I was shocked, because it seemed so out of character for Trevone, and I was frustrated, because it meant TCU was going into the game as a huge underdog. I was already planning on going down there for the game, though, and my buddies all decided we were still going.
Jaden Oberkrom (TCU Kicker 2012-2015): I was rooming with our long snapper, Matt Boggs, and we woke up at 5 am that morning for an FCA breakfast. I was in the shower at 5-something in the morning, and Boggs comes in and he’s like ‘dude, Trevone got arrested last night’. I was like shut up, I didn’t believe him. But he insisted. So I got out, dried off, went and sure enough on ESPN, Trevone Boykin arrested. So, it’s funny, when we got on the bus to go to the FCA breakfast, there are like 20, 25 guys, and no one even talked about it, no one said a word. We all knew, so we kind of accepted defeat at that moment.
Melissa Triebwasser: I was headed to California the day it happened, ironically to watch Stanford play in the Rose Bowl on New Year’s Day. The plan was to fly to San Antonio the morning after the Rose Bowl, but when I got the news I almost cancelled my flight. It was over. We had no chance.
Denzel Johnson: The star quarterback going down, for any reason, you’re going to feel it. But we weren’t devastated, you know what I mean? Our motto at TCU was next man up, because that’s how it was through the whole season with all the injuries we dealt with. We just took it as the same plan; next quarterback up, Bram’s up. We knew all we needed to do was rally around him, and Bram would get the job done.
Bram Kohlhausen: Trevone was my roommate, and the whole week, he was talking about how he was finally healthy again, how this was going to be his going away party and boost his draft stock. That morning, knowing that he let himself down, it was tough on the whole quarterback room because we knew how much he wanted that game to propel his NFL career.
Dan Rubenstein (SB Nation Video, Host of the Solid Verbal Podcast, Noted Oregon fan): From afar, it was pretty surprising, because Trevone Boykin had a pretty good reputation. From an Oregon perspective, even though there aren’t a ton of stakes to a game like the Alamo Bowl, it’s encouraging, I guess, that a team won’t have their starting quarterback, but disappointing because it was one of those games, a top 15 matchup, that looked to be fun but became a lot less so without Trevone Boykin.
Marc Istook: To start the final game of the season, without taking hardly any first team reps, especially not many in the bowl season… you weren’t feeling too confident about the Frogs’ chances. And that’s not a knock on Bram, that’s just football.
Bram Kohlhausen: We had a long quarterback meeting, talking about who was going to start, how things were going to be handled if we did get down. We all knew that Foster didn’t have a great OU showing, so we didn’t want to throw him in the fire again, so in my mind, I was just thinking I need to know this play sheet - the way we do it at TCU, we don’t have a ton of plays, but we can run them out of a ton of formations. I sat down at my desk in my hotel room when I found out and just went up and down the play sheet, mocking my signals, to make sure I knew every call in every situation.
Denzel Johnson: I practiced against the guy everyday, and I knew who he was coming out of the University of Houston. I knew what he was about, he was very much capable of going to another program and starting. We didn’t have any doubts in our mind about Bram starting. We knew that he was ready to go whenever he was called upon.
Jaden Oberkrom: Bram, coming out of high school, was one of the top ten quarterbacks in his class. So we knew he was legit. We trusted him, but, it was still kind of an unknown to us.
Bram Kohlhausen: It was definitely the first time that I have had that feeling since playoff games in high school. I was definitely nervous, and it kind of felt like everyone had counted us out. But then there were the team leaders - guys like Derrick Kindred and Aaron Green were trying to get the younger guys to believe that we could do this. In some sense, it felt like a false energy, but I think with so many young guys playing, they could be so naive that they didn’t know that 31 points was as big as it actually was.
But one person who wasn’t naive was the well-traveled senior walk-on QB, who would be making his first ever start for TCU is his last ever game. But before he took the field, just weeks after losing his father, his head coach had something to say to him.
Bram Kohlhausen: When we broke meetings in the hotel, he (Coach Patterson) came over to me and said ‘you’ve got a lot of people on your side, your dad’s watching down, you can do this - you’ve been playing well all season.’ He just let me know that he had full faith in me, he let me know that I was going to start and that he was ready for me to do it and do it for my dad.
Regardless of who was taking the field, the game would be played. But it was obvious early on that the Frogs’ hearts weren’t quite in it, and after both teams started with three and outs, the explosive Oregon offense took advantage.
Marc Istook: I had to work up until the beginning of the game, so I get home, I put on my TCU shirt, I’ve got my lucky TCU shoes on, and I’ve got the game DVR-ing. I’m thinking it’s going to be a track meet, this is going to be a high-scoring game, so when Oregon starts to score and we have to punt again and again, you’re starting to think this could be the long night I was worried it could turn into.
Denzel Johnson: After that first drive, this first series, we were feeling good. The first drive really sets the tone for the game, and we felt we were all on point, the play calling was all on point, and we thought that was how the game was going to go.
Bram Kohlhausen: If you really look at it on tape, we should have scored on that first drive. We were probably a couple inches away from hitting Kolby (Listenbee) in stride for maybe an 80 yard touchdown. So the first thing I did was walk over to Kolby and ask him if it hit him in the hands because I had gotten hit that play, and he said, “Yeah,” so I knew exactly what they were doing. They didn’t show us anything on defense that was different than normal, so after the first drive, I still felt like we could win and I felt like Kolby was going to be a huge factor in the game.
Bram Kohlhausen: Leading into the following drives, we kind of stalled with a bunch of penalties, and that really hurt us. Penalties really killed us in the first half - we were getting holding calls, unsportsmanlike conduct calls, too many men on the field… so I just think we were as focused as we could have been. You can convert a first and 20 with a Heisman-caliber quarterback, but I only brought so much to the table. So I think when we got backed up, it deflated the morale of the offense when we were in first and longs and third and longs.
Denzel Johnson: Going from the first quarter to the second quarter, the defense, we were on the field a lot. So we were a little bit winded, and we are thinking, 21-0, for us to win the game, or even give our offense a chance to come back, we have to stop them from scoring. That was our mindset going to the second quarter, and Coach P was saying “are you going to let them run you over or are you going to stop them?”
By the time the dust settled in quarter number one, TCU found themselves on the wrong end of a 21 point deficit. And with an experienced senior quarterback at the helm, the Ducks were well in control. On the TCU sideline, the players hadn’t quite given up hope, but the energy was waning.
Dan Rubenstein: Oregon Football, traditionally, when up 31 points - kind of the trend of the Mike Bellotti, Chip Kelly, Mark Helfrich eras - they didn’t really give up 30 point leads. Oregon teams typically identified weak spots in a defense and then hit them with tempo, made great halftime adjustments, had big third quarters. So when Oregon is hitting chunk plays, throwing the ball down the field, that’s what typically, 98%, 99% of the time leads to a comfortable Oregon win.
Jaden Oberkrom: Honestly, I kind of checked out towards the end of the second quarter. It was punt, Oregon would get the ball and score. I mean 31 points in a half to zero is pretty big. I thought I might have to go in and kick two or three times, maybe a short field goal or something, then we would go our separate ways and move on, and that would be the last game of my career.
Bram Kohlhausen: Each time they scored, the whole morale, even with the fans, and us on the sideline, as that lead got bigger, it just deflated us a little bit more.
Denzel Johnson: We [the defense] had the mindset that we could come back from anything. You see it all the time in fights, the little guy beating up the big guy. And that’s what we were thinking. We were pretty much getting our butts kicked the whole first and second quarter, but we had a whole ‘nother half - why couldn’t we do the same thing to them that they did to us?
But while the Frogs were trying to stay focused and positive, Oregon decided to go for the jugular, as they tried a fake punt on fourth and six from the TCU 46, up 28-0. But Denzel Johnson was there to help break up the pass and give the Frogs back the ball.
Bram Kohlhausen: It was the right call for them, the guy was wide open and it’s a first down if he doesn’t drop the ball. As an offensive guy, I liked the aggressive call and didn’t feel disrespected by it, but I’m definitely glad they weren’t able to get a first down there.
Denzel Johnson: Me personally, I felt pretty much disrespected at that point. I felt like that was them really pulling it all out and stepping on our throat. That’s how I took it, at least. We couldn’t let that happen, we couldn’t let that go down, so we were pretty fired up at that point.
The TCU players we talked to pointed to one moment as the play of the game, and that was the hit that Derrick Kindred leveled on Oregon QB Vernon Adams with about five minutes remaining in the half. Now, suddenly, it felt like the playing field had leveled a bit, as both teams were without their starting QBs - the only difference being that the Ducks had been spotted a 28 point lead when theirs exited the game.
Marc Istook: When Vernon Adams goes down, a lot of people after the game, Oregon fans especially, felt like the game deserved an asterisk. But we were already without Trevone Boykin. So, as far as I was concerned, Adams leaving the game only evened the playing field. We played with an arm behind our back for the first half, so having a playmaker out for both teams evened things out.
Bram Kohlhausen: Baker Mayfield got knocked out of the OU game a month before, and we were down 17, and for me, I always felt like I was better than the other team’s backup - at that point it was Trevor Knight. And when I saw the backup come in, I figured we could hold them to 28 points and we could score 28 points [TCU lost that OU game by one after a failed two point conversion attempt]. So [Adams going out] really was the play of the game and probably why we won that game.
Denzel Johnson: You never want to see another player go down, but it was a legal hit, it was a good hit. So whenever the backup QB came in, that drive, you could tell the difference in the play style. Vernon Adams was a true dual threat, both running and passing. And that first half, him running, extending plays, really killed our defense. [Lockie] wasn’t quite able to do that. He was more of a pocket passer; he didn’t have the experience on Adams, and you could see that in their play style.
Dan Rubenstein: I assumed everything would come screeching to somewhat of a halt, but given the offensive skill at running back and wide receiver, I figured that they would be able to cobble together some points here and there. Scoring on TCU with a backup quarterback certainly looked difficult, but not impossible. I didn’t anticipate having a center and quarterback go out, and having just the basic exchange go wrong so consistently. To watch a team just completely forget how to play fundamental football was completely new. The cracks started showing that this coaching staff benefited from having Chip Kelly players and health. They had dealt with QB injuries before, but there has never been such a huge chasm as there was from Vernon Adams to Jeff Lockie.
Jamie Plunkett: I honestly didn’t think it would matter much. A 31 point lead for a team like Oregon is church for their opponent 99% of the time. But, knowing that Oregon’s offense would be slowed without Adams, I still hoped that the Frogs could pull something together in the second half.
But just when it looked like the Frogs had a chance to capitalize on Oregon’s misfortune and change the momentum… they turn it over for the first time all game.
Bram Kohlhausen: We were third and long, it was a bad read on a pre-snap decision, and in my head I thought the free safety was down and I was just going to give Kolby a chance. I took a three step drop and let it loose and it went right to the Oregon guy.
Denzel Johnson: Even with the interception, we were still pretty satisfied with holding them to a field goal going into the locker room.
Though they ended the half on somewhat of a positive note, the Frogs were still behind in a big way: on the wrong end of 31-0. But this group had been through a lot together, and their head coach had seen just about everything before. They went into the locker room believing they could turn the tide, even if the fans didn’t.
Marc Istook: I have a rule that I try to watch every single snap of every game each season, and I don’t believe in turning the game off. The guys are on the field from start to finish until that final whistle, I need to stick around as well. But I was pretty tempted at halftime, just out of sheer frustration, and even anger. Anger at Trevone for the situation and the way it unfolded, and for putting his teammates and the fans of TCU in that position. It was that heartbroken feeling for him, a bunch of emotions mixed together, along with getting punched in the mouth by an Oregon team, plus knowing I’ve got to live with this for the next year… this is going to sting for a while. It was tempting to want to turn the TV off, but I knew - if they can score 31 points in a half, then we can score 31 points in the half.
Melissa Triebwasser: I had been up since 3:00 am Texas time, taken an early flight to get to San Antonio from LAX. And by halftime, staring down a 31 point deficit, with the stadium out of water and beer, and temperatures rising, frankly, I was ready to go back to the hotel and go to sleep. But one of my students was performing in the halftime show, and I had promised I would stay to watch.
Jaden Oberkrom: At halftime, everybody was in the locker room, but the kickers, the punters, and the deep snappers were just outside of it, near the training area. We were eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, drinking gatorade, just having a good time and laughing. We were done, we were all kind of checked out, just tired. We were having a little picnic just outside the locker room and no one really cared.
Bram Kohlhausen: For me going into the locker room, I was just thinking, ‘that’s the last snap of football I am ever going to play.’ How we do it [in the locker room] is the defense and the offense split up, and we were kind of getting coached up and the coaches really lit a fire under us. Everybody was pretty positive, and credit to them, none of the coaches seemed to have any doubt that we were going to come back.
Denzel Johnson: Whenever Coach P came and talked to us, me personally, I expected him to get after us, to be yelling, getting fired up, but he came to us and said, “Men, there are only two things you can do - you can either come back, 30 years from now, and be known as the team that got beat by Oregon 60-0, or be remembered as the team that had the biggest comeback in bowl game history”. That was our only two options, so, we decided no more mistakes on offense or defense, we were going going to put all of our faith in Bram, our playmakers on offense, and lay it out on the line.
Bram Kohlhausen: I remember Derrick Kindred grabbing everybody and telling us we have to get going, that this isn’t TCU Football. And our linebackers coach, Jason Phillips, was getting into everybody, that this isn’t the Frog way in football, that we aren’t going to get blown out in a bowl game, and everybody bought in. For me, once I knew I wasn’t getting pulled, in a sense, it made me relax. Not having the pressure, not having to think about getting pulled in that game. Cumbie and Meacham essentially said ‘hey the defense is going to stop them every drive and we have to score every time we get the ball. And the whole second half, I told the whole O Line every time we broke it up on the sideline ‘no holding and let’s go get points’.
But before they left the locker room, Coach P took a moment to remind his quarterback that he had some extra help on his side.
Bram Kohlhausen: [Coach Patterson] said, “Your dad’s up there, he’s watching, go do it for him, you’ve got nothing to lose.”
TCU came out for the second half with a new mindset, and their head coach came out with a new shirt. While the wardrobe change was big news on TV, the players all said that they had no idea that GP had gone to the purple shirt until well into the third quarter.
Marc Istook: As the second half started, and as the Frogs got on the board, I remember Mack Brown, calling the game, made a comment saying, “Hey, 31 points isn’t insurmountable.” So I know it pains TCU fans to give Mack Brown a lot of credit, he deserves credit for believing in the Frogs in that game when they were down 31-0.
Jaden Oberkrom: Once we got into scoring position, I thought I might have to kick an extra point, but ended up with a 20-something yard field goal. I made it and was thinking, ‘Well, I made one field goal, I contributed somehow,’ then figured I should probably lock back in just in case.
Melissa Triebwasser: I had gone up to the upper level to chat with my student, and wasn’t paying attention to the game. And then I hear the Frog Horn sound, and I start thinking, ‘Well, maybe this will end up being worth sticking around for.’ So I headed back down to the 200 level, but being superstitious, didn’t go back to my seat right away.
Jamie Plunkett: I was impressed with how many TCU fans stuck around after halftime. And strangely enough, after Oberkrom’s field goal and a defensive stop, the fans started to get back into it. Not all at once, but there was a weird buzz around the stadium.
Bram Kohlhausen: It was definitely a good feeling to go and get in the red zone and get some points on the board. We just needed points at that point, and I feel like I’ve been around enough football to know sometimes you just need one, and after that, everything gets a little bit easier. Once we got those first points, we continued to roll. It was awesome.
Denzel Johnson: It proved that we can score, that slowly but surely, we can get ourselves back into the game. As long as we do our job, they can keep putting points on the board.
Jaden Oberkrom: To me, it felt a lot farther. It had been 31-0. I kept thinking there’s no way, there’s absolutely no way.
The Frogs faced a fourth and five on their second drive at the Oregon 26 yard line. They were within Oberkrom’s range, but there was no doubt what they were doing - they were going for it.
Bram Kohlhausen: We ran four verticals, and I knew Turpin would eat up the safety and kind of hold him. They didn’t give me a better look on the left side, so I knew I was going to play the right side, and Jaelan (Austin), he was playing awesome at the end of the year, and on the pre-snap read I knew I was either going to Turpin or Jaelan. Jaelan beat his guy and I gave him a chance to make a play and he did it for me.
On the ensuing kickoff, TCU got the ball back quickly, as Arico Evans laid a huge hit on the Oregon return man, causing a fumble. The Frogs drove right back down the field, and faced a fourth and goal.
Melissa Triebwasser: That was the moment, where, it felt like if the Frogs could score after that turnover, there was reason to get your hopes up as a fan.
Jamie Plunkett: This is when it started to get loud, and it’s when I started believing the comeback was going to happen.
Bram Kohlhausen: Once we knew we had the ball, we all knew we needed to double up here and get two scores. Next thing you know, we ran a well-designed play, and they had it covered up pretty well, so I had to take off and luckily, somehow, I outran a first round pick.
Denzel Johnson: 31-17 sounds way better than 31-0. At that point, everyone’s confidence was rising.
Melissa Triebwasser: I didn’t sit in my seat for one second of the third quarter… I was wandering around the Alamo Dome, watching from the aisles, pacing up and down. And I wasn’t the only superstitious weirdo doing that, either. The sense of community was awesome in that moment - in the stadium, on social media, everything.
Suddenly, it was a two score game, as TCU had clawed back to get within 31-17, with 15 minutes remaining. And while the outcome was certainly still in doubt, all of the momentum, all of the energy, was trending the Frogs’ way. People were lined up at the doors trying to get back into the stadium, as fans sensed that something special was about to happen.
Marc Istook: I think the seat of my couch, if you plotted haltime to the end of the game, I am continually creeping forward. On the edge, off the edge, having to get back on the couch. Getting on the edge again, falling off… it was one cycle over and over again because the game was filled with plays, that second half especially, where the balls bounced the Frogs’ way.
Jaden Oberkrom: Probably until halfway through the fourth quarter it felt a lot farther than what it was, at least to me, because we were down so much. Our defense stepped up. Props to our defense, they didn’t allow a point the entire second half - that’s insane.
Bram Kohlhausen: Mr. Automatic. No doubt.
Jaden Oberkrom: It would still be a two score game so I didn’t really think much of it, I was just trying to go out there and do my job. It was my last game, so every time I went out there, I kept thinking, ‘This could be my last kick.’ It wasn’t really pressure, it was just, ‘Hey if I miss this it could be my last attempt, ever, in football,’ and that helped keep me locked in. Once we were in the twenties, you kind of looked up and thought, ‘Okay, maybe. Probably not, but maybe.’
After Oberkrom booted the 34 yard field to cut the lead to 31-20, the TCU defense put together back to back stops sandwiching another TCU touchdown drive. Over those two Oregon drives, the Ducks managed just four yards on consecutive three and outs, using up just two minutes and twenty seconds of game time.
Denzel Johnson: At that point, everyone’s confidence was rising. We knew that we just had to continue to do what we were doing. Somebody got two tackles in a row, and we were all pretty fired up about that. Those were the shortest drives they had in the whole game.
Bram Kohlhausen: I just knew we needed a score. We were rolling ever since that field goal, so I don’t think anyone had any doubt what was going to go on. We hit Shaun Nixon on an under route that he kind of let loose up the middle, then we stole a play from Oklahoma State - I had to be in the punt formation - and then the touchdown play, that was designed for Trevone. We shifted over, and I went and threw the block and Aaron played quarterback. So, the original play, there was a lot of designed runs that game, it was originally a quarterback sweep to the right. And after the coaches signaled it in, I looked at Aaron and said “I’m not going to be able to score.” So he said, “Give it to me then.” Only three people in the entire stadium actually knew what was going on - me, Austin Schlottman, and Aaron. We were the only ones that needed to know. So the rest of the team was blocking their normal assignments, but I had to tell Schlottman that he was going to snap it to Aaron, I needed Aaron on my left side, and I slid over to the right. Originally, he would have blocked for Trevone, but I wouldn’t have turned the corner on that one - I wasn’t fast enough. But it was better this way anyway - that had to have been a great feeling for Aaron; that was his hometown, I knew he wanted to score. That was probably the most tickets to a bowl game I had ever seen - everybody who wasn’t using their tickets transferred them to Aaron.
Melissa Triebwasser: At this point, I had returned to my seat, but I was really struggling to sit still. I vacillated between watching the game and trolling twitter, both of which were super enjoyable. Green’s touchdown was such a great moment - he was really the only offensive player left standing at that point... with Boykin out and Josh Doctson hurt, the only senior stars from 2014 left on offense were Listenbee and Green. Kolby was limited to something like one catch for one yard, so Green really carried the team that night. Seeing him get into the end zone in that moment was so special, and I remember the crowd going absolutely nuts for him.
Dan Rubenstein: I always sort of, in the back of my head, was saying, ‘Oregon can put together a drive, Oregon can return a punt, Oregon can intercept a pass, catch a tipped ball, and flip the field once.’ It was always in the back of my mind, ‘They look bad, they’re consistently underwhelming, they have one drive in them.’ And while it was death by a thousand papercuts - and I was feeling every one of them as an Oregon fan - I did not fully anticipate this coaching staff and the offense in general falling to a point where they are spotting themselves 31 points in a half and not be able to come away with a win. I was convinced that Oregon was going to win ugly by pulling away in a game they had a 31 point lead late to win.
Denzel Johnson: At this point, I’m feeling like the defense is rolling, we got three stops in a row, and the offense is rolling, they’ve been unstoppable in this half. We came this far, we just have to stay the course, and we will have a good outcome.
With just over four minutes to go in regulation, Aaron Green finds the end zone again, this time from two yards out, cutting the lead to six. The Frogs need two, and get the conversion on a half back pass from Shaun Nixon to tight end Buck Jones. Suddenly, it’s a three point game, and after another defensive stop - one yard on three plays - TCU drives back down the field with the final seconds ticking down. Eight plays later, facing a fourth and one from the Oregon five, they call on their senior kicker yet again.
Marc Istook: I remember thinking, when Jaden Oberkrom lines up that field goal at the end of the game to tie it, he has to make it, because this story can’t end with him missing. This story is too good for us to make it all the way back, and then with 22 seconds on the clock, to fall short. It just felt like the narrative, the story, wouldn’t have been complete without him making that kick.
Bram Kohlhausen: He’s Mr. Automatic, there was never a doubt.
Denzel Johnson: I hadn’t seen him miss too many field goals, so I wasn’t really worried about it, I wasn’t worried about him missing the field goal. He was automatic.
Melissa Triebwasser: As good as Jaden was, and he was so good… I couldn’t watch. I covered my eyes and put my head down and peeked through just as the ball went through the uprights.
Jamie Plunkett: I had to put my hands over my mouth to keep from screaming “Come on Jaden!” in the press box. I sort of just put my head down on the desk and listened for the fans to either cheer or groan. Fortunately, TCU fans exploded and I knew what had happened.
Jaden Oberkrom: It was a short field goal, which was good. Going out there, my first thought was, ‘If I miss this, it’s my last kick,’ one, and two, ‘All the TCU fans are going to hate me,’ and three, ‘This is how I’ll be remembered when I go out on job interviews.’ Those probably aren’t the best thoughts to have, but it kind of helped me focus. It might be a 20-something yarder, but we just needed to slap it in and move on. It was a solid kick, good hold, I just wanted to do my job. Everybody did that the whole second half - just played perfect football.
The Frogs had climbed the mountain and tied things up with the Ducks at 31 as regulation ended. But so often, teams fight to tie things up, only to run out of gas and lose in the extra frame. But the Frogs weren’t about to let that happen.
Denzel Johnson: Why stop now? We came this far, we have to win it. There’s no turning back.
Marc Istook: It was such a mixed bag of emotions in overtime. The Frogs score first, and that’s great - now we just have to hold them. And then Oregon scores and the doubts creep back in. It was nerve-wracking. There’s that feeling of, ‘I would rather have gotten punched in the gut 31-0 than to have clawed all the way back and then suffered, with my hopes up, a devastating loss.’ And to make things worse, by this point I had caught up on Tivo and had to live out those moments in real time. It was amazingly agonizing.
Jamie Plunkett: We see it so often in sports - a team works their tails off to make the comeback just to run out of steam and lose at the end. I was hoping this wouldn’t happen to TCU, but guys looked exhausted. Players kept cramping up, hands were on hips, but somehow they just found a way to keep going.
Bram Kohlhausen: I was glad we got the ball first and I was pretty confident we were going to score. We got down there and Emanuel Porter made a heck of a catch - the ball was two yards behind him, he slowed down and turned around and caught it for me. It was a huge play.
Melissa Triebwasser: At this point, nothing feels real. You kind of expect the Frogs to run out of gas at some point - the roster was so thin due to injuries - but it also felt like the story being written was too good to not get a happily ever after ending.
Oregon scores for the first time since the first half, as quarterback Jeff Lockie and running back Royce Freeman get them into the end zone in response to the Frogs’ score. To OT number two we go, and this time the Ducks get first stab at it. The TCU defense keeps them at bay, and they settle for three.
Denzel Johnson: Better play calling, better defensive execution. Once we got to overtime, it was a back and forth game, and thankfully, they decided not to give the ball to Royce Freeman, their playmaker, on that drive.
The Frogs moved backward on their drive, setting up a long field goal for their senior kicker.
Bram Kohlhausen: I wanted the game to be over after the first overtime. We could have just kicked it right then and there probably, but we ran three plays and made it even longer for him. I was really really worried, because as good as he is, sometimes guys are just due for a miss. But he wasn’t. He really should have been offensive MVP.
Jaden Oberkrom: I wasn’t nervous, but it was the same thoughts I had at the end of the fourth quarter - but a lot more amplified. We had been fighting a lot longer to stay alive, and it wasn’t a 23 yarder, it was 46. And it’s funny, because as soon as I hit it, I thought I had missed it. My toe was up and I swung across my body which usually means the ball is going to wobble and hook to the left some. But I aimed right ball, and it wobbled for sure, but it stayed straight in the middle for sure, and it didn’t move.
Bram Kohlhausen: It was the best kick I had ever seen.
Marc Istook: I think by that point in the game, I was just punch-drunk. You feel like you’ve been riding this roller coaster, you’re nauseated, because it’s been up and down up and down for three, now going on four hours. So I am thinking, ‘Just make it,’ or, ‘I don’t know how devastated I’ll be, but I know it will be one of those feelings that I will carry with me for a long time.’ The level of uncertainty as he lines up that kick is as great as I have ever felt as a TCU fan.
Jaden Oberkrom: I’ve hit a lot of balls like that in practice, and they move. As soon as I hit I’m like, I’m done. And I look up and you son of a gun, you stayed straight.
Marc Istook: The kick is up…. Ahhhhhhhh…. He made it. Thank God. It’s more relief than anything.
Melissa Triebwasser: That ball wobbled and spun like crazy, but it was almost like it was on a string being pulled through the uprights. At that point, you kind of felt like we HAD to win. It was beyond anyone’s control.
Jaden Oberkrom: I did a huge fist pump like Tiger Woods. I told my little brother I would do that if I made a big kick that game.
By OT number three, everyone is exhausted, and nobody cares. The stadium is out of food and beverage, the fans are gassed, the players are gassed, but nobody is moving. It’s high drama, sports at its finest, and it seems the entire world is tuned in. They wouldn’t be disappointed.
Bram Kohlhausen: I knew we had to score, and I knew we had to go for two. Aaron Green had a big play, and the next play was the option to the short side of the field. Oregon had played it well the whole game, and I had never faked a pitch before in my whole life. And next thing you know, we’re running that option and Aaron Green is vocally saying “no no no no no” and I had no other choice but to keep it. So I gave him a little flick, turned the corner, and I thought I was going to get drilled by a linebacker turning the corner - because that’s usually what happens on the short side of the field. But nobody was there, and the next thing you know, I’m in the end zone.
Marc Istook: I’m someone who’s not afraid to get emotional at sports victories and sports moments, and I think that moment wasn’t terribly far off from winning the Rose Bowl felt. TCU, we are a small community. So, when you see a victory like that for TCU, that is that emotional for all the players and all the fans, the excitement and the adrenaline rush, it’s… it’s… emotional. I don’t know how else to say it. So when he skirts around the right side and finds enough green to get in, it reminded me off Andy Dalton’s sprint to the end zone in the Rose Bowl, where he barely had room to get inside the pylon. Similar stakes - it wasn’t the Rose Bowl, but it was a big play to put TCU ahead in overtime. I couldn’t be more happy for a guy (Bram) to get a chance to shine. You come and you toil as a backup - I mean, guys go to college to PLAY football, to be on the field and compete, and when you finally have that chance, and it’s on the biggest stage, in a moment like that, who doesn’t love that story?
Jamie Plunkett: Of all the moments that Bram pulled out of his hat that day, this is the one that sealed his fate as a TCU legend.
Jaden Oberkrom: We were all excited that the game was going on and thankful to be in the third overtime, from my perspective. But we knew this was very stressful for everyone, and just wanted to go ahead and end it. But it wasn’t like the Baylor game that year when it was sleeting rain and I don’t think anybody cared, except the coaches, who won. We were so cold, couldn’t feel our bodies. So it wasn’t like that, it wasn’t like we were ready to go home, we just wanted to end it. But also, I was thinking if they don’t freaking go down and make another touchdown I am going to have to make another field goal. It was crazy, it was stressful.
Bram Kohlhausen: Right afterwards, it’s a sense of - it’s so unrealistic that you don’t even remember - but immediately after I got in the end zone I did the James Harden celebration, and then I knew we had to go for two. So I gather my adrenaline and I gather my emotions and go try and get the two point conversion.
With his adrenaline certainly still roiling, Bram takes the snap on the two point conversion. Under pressure, he sprints out right, creating a throwing window to the end zone, where Tony James is wide open. But he misses the throw, bouncing it in low, and leaving the Frogs with a perilous six point lead.
Denzel Johnson: We had older guys on defense like Derrick and Josh Carraway, so as defensive players, we wanted to have the game on us to win it. What’s a better moment to shine than this one?
Bram Kohlhausen: I was really nervous that they were going to go score and it was going to be me and a two point conversion again, just like it was at OU. I walked up to Coach Meacham and he walked up to me, and I said “I’m sorry, I should have made that throw.” And he looked at me and said, “Dude, they’re going to stop them. We won the game”. And next thing you know, they didn’t get a first down, and they go from third and short to fourth and long on a bad snap. Coach Meacham really believed that our defense was going to win that game, and he was right.
Dan Rubenstein: So by that point, at least, we had seen Jeff Lockie engineer a touchdown drive in overtime. But still, at this point, this was a team that was going to be led by a creative running game and not anything downfield through the air. We knew, everybody in the stadium, everybody watching on TV, everybody breathlessly tweeting, ‘Oh my god turn to the Alamo Bowl,’ everybody sort of knew that it was just the longest of longshots to expect Jeff Lockie to make a clutch throw down field. On fourth and eight that’s when I made peace, there’s just… there’s no way. To throw it beyond the sticks? That’s when I was resigned to the fact that this was going to go down as the biggest choke job in the modern history of Oregon Football.
Denzel Johnson: There was a short feeling of disappointment [after the TCU defense failed to recover Jeff Lockie’s fumble] of, ‘We could have had the game right there.’ But we felt like we had stopped them on the previous three plays, why couldn’t we stop them on the fourth one?
Dan Rubenstein: Wow, TCU is really going to do this, Oregon is really not going to be able to take advantage of a 31 point lead at halftime. There was very little in the way of confidence that Oregon was going to be able to make that play. It wasn’t a momentum thing, TCU showed all of the fight and all of the energy and all of the focus in the world in chipping away at the lead and ultimately keeping their heads in that game.
Denzel Johnson: They had trips on my side, and I had the number three receiver. He ran either a dig or a post route, something inside, and as I look up, I see the QB scrambling up the middle. So the receiver broke out toward the sideline, I see the ball in the air, and I knew I was going to be able to knock the ball down. I’ve never had a moment like that. I knew I was in a position to make a great play, and I knew I had it, I had this play, the game in the bag, and I was going to be celebrating.
Jaden Oberkrom: Our defense stepped up and made a great play, finally ended the game. I walked over to the other sideline, shook the kickers hands like usually, tried to find my family. There wasn’t any celebration, really, I just felt like I could breathe. The pressure of the game was off, the pressure of the season was off, and the pressure of the career was off. It was kind of like, ‘Finally,’ you know?
Marc Istook: It happened in a blink of an eye and almost in slow-motion. As the ball leaves his hands and you see a Frog jersey fly out of nowhere and bat the ball away, that sinking feeling of, ‘No flags… we won. We won. I can’t believe we won this game!’
Melissa Triebwasser: When that ball hit the turf... the stadium exploded. It felt like not a single person had left, and we were all jumping and screaming and hugging... it felt like the Frogs had just won a natty.
Jamie Plunkett: The whole place went nuts. I was losing it and trying to type at the same time, and all I wanted to do was get back to my friends so we could relive it right away.
Denzel Johnson: My adrenaline shot through the roof. Everyone was running toward me, chasing me, and we were all celebrating. We knew we put it all on the line, and we just wanted to celebrate with each other.
With the game ending seemingly so abruptly, the celebration began.
Bram Kohlhausen: Sam Carter and I had already grabbed the Gatorade [before the last play]. And I was like, “Dude, they could score.” And he said, “They’re not scoring.” I guess every defensive player knew that they weren’t going to score again, and right when the horn sounded, we went and dumped Gatorade on Coach P, and I went and found my buddies and my family and started jumping around.
Marc Istook: It’s funny hearing Gary Patterson after bowl games, because there is such a different demeanor for him when it’s the last game of the season, win or lose. He doesn’t have to coach these guys up anymore, he can kind of bask in the result of the game. The fact that he talked about changing his shirt, that showed that he was having fun. He was taking everything in stride and enjoying himself, and I think the relief on his face and the joy on his face was fun to see as a Frog fan.
Denzel Johnson: It was probably my favorite game of my college career, my number one experience. Coming back from 31-0, it was really surreal. It was one of those feel-good stories that you can’t write, that you have to experience for yourself.
Marc Istook: There wasn’t as much at stake in this game as there were other games. The Rose Bowl, that is still one of the greatest games and experiences of my life. I remember going up to Boise State and watching them pull out the win on the two point conversion… there’s so many amazing games, but this one was special for a different reason. The emotion leading up to the game, because of what happened with Boykin, because of Bram’s story, the way the season had gone from where it began, the first half had been a disappointment… it almost stands on an island alone. It’s hard to compare it to some of the other wins because it’s so unique - for a season, and a group of seniors, that had really given Frog fans so much. It was just satisfying.
Melissa Triebwasser: It was this feeling of exhilaration and exhaustion and everything in between. The walk back to the hotel was one of my favorite parts of the entire evening - it was raining and there were thousands of us walking, chanting, cheering, and everything. It was awesome. Then we got back to the hotel, and every time a player came in, the party started over again. We took pictures with all the guys, Travin Howard, CDC and Coach Schlossnagle… it was an incredible night. I don’t know when I went to bed, but I don’t even remember sleeping.
Jamie Plunkett: We stayed out late that night, celebrating, and when I got home the next day I went straight to the DVR and turned it on again.
The game was over, victory was the Frogs’, but Bram Kohlhausen’s journey was just beginning. The once no-name QB was now the most in demand player of the bowl season, going on a national media tour.
Bram Kohlhausen: It was definitely too much. I don’t think anybody can be ready for that. I had a trip booked to go skiing right after, figuring I wasn’t going to play, it wasn’t going to be a big deal, and next thing you know I’m on the phone the entire trip doing interview after interview. It was really overwhelming, and I can’t imagine going through that kind of media coverage as an 18 year old freshman or something - I was a fifth year senior and it was just crazy. It was really overwhelming; it was a fun experience, it was just a really crazy time.
Jaden Oberkrom: I loved kicking, especially at TCU - I don’t think there could have been a better fit. And what a game to end on. But, it’s not like I was crying, going to miss it, you know what I mean? It’s a lot of pressure, doing it for four years. It builds your reputation or it can kill it. I’m just thankful it kind of built mine a little bit. And that game, it’s the best ending of a career you can have. I had the thought going in, if I miss this, reputation is done, fans hate me, last kick - I have to walk off the field with my head down, stadium silent, the whole deal. I’m just thankful I made it.
Bram Kohlhausen: When each call is Dan Patrick, ESPN, Yahoo, all sorts of stuff, you know these articles are going to go across the nation. You walk across campus and you get high fives and everything, people recognize you, you go out to eat and people want to take pictures… those are the things that I watched Trevone do his entire career, and I would never have guessed that I would get that kind of treatment.
Marc Istook: The win is amazing, and I am riding that high, and I show up to work at the NFL Network, wearing my TCU shirt loud and proud repping the Horned Frogs, and LaDainian Tomlinson walks through the studio. And as he’s walking through the studio, he sees me with my TCU shirt on and he gives me the biggest smile and throws up the biggest Frog sign. And for me, as a TCU fan, there are few moments more enjoyable than to share a win with LaDainian Tomlinson.
TCU returns to the Alamo Bowl next week, and while it’s unlikely the experience will be close to the same, it should bring back many good memories for fans and players alike. But while we make new memories in 2017, let us never forget that most incredible game, that most incredible comeback, that most incredible win.