Casey Pachall stood 10 feet from the first row of bleachers at Bronco Stadium Saturday afternoon, while playing catch with a teammate and warming up one hour before the biggest game of his young career.
All the while, a pack of orange-clad Boise State fans huddled around him, hurling insults and directing every taunt they could in his direction.
All he could do was smile.
Four hours later, the sophomore had that same wide grin on his face.
TCU beat Boise State 36-35 over the weekend, which handed the Broncos their first home conference loss since 1998 and put the Frogs in the driver’s seat for their third straight Mountain West Conference Championship.
Pachall, making his first start against a ranked team on the road, threw for a career-high 473 yards and five touchdowns, including a 25-yarder to Brandon Carter and a go-ahead two-point conversion toss to Josh Boyce that gave TCU the lead with 1:05 left in the game.
More so than that, the Frogs’ first-year starter outdueled Kellen Moore, the winningest quarterback in college football history, and he did it on Moore’s home turf, a place where, up until Saturday, Moore had never lost since becoming the Broncos’ starter in 2008.
Moore threw for 320 yards and a pair of touchdowns and even drove Boise State deep into TCU territory to set the Broncos up with a 39-yard field goal and a chance to win the ballgame.
But Dan Goodale’s kick was wide right, and it was Pachall, not Moore, who walked off the blue turf victorious after making a late-game charge, something that didn’t happen in the Frogs’ previous two losses this season.
Pachall led TCU on comebacks against both Baylor and SMU earlier in the year but fell short both times, throwing an interception in the final seconds against the Bears and having a fourth-down pass fall incomplete in overtime against the Mustangs.
This time the Frogs were able to finish the deal, something Pachall said has been a longtime coming.
“Now we finally finished it and got it taken care of, it really brings a relief because we’ve been fighting hard all year, especially in the fourth quarter,” Pachall said, whose performance Saturday earned him Walter Camp National Player of the Week honors. “Now that we actually pulled one off, it gives us a lot of motivation and confidence for the week.”
But TCU’s win almost wasn’t one.
Before Goodale’s missed kick, the Broncos had a chance to ice the game, driving into TCU territory with a 35-28 lead with less than three minutes left in the fourth quarter.
But Boise State running back Drew Wright couldn’t make it happen.
Wright fumbled after being hit by TCU defenders Tank Carder and Jonathan Anderson. Frog defensive end Ross Forrest fell on the loose ball and gave TCU the ball with 2:28 left on the clock and down a touchdown.
From that point, Pachall said he knew he and the offense would be able to make the comeback.
“Once that fumble occurred, I knew we had what it takes to march down the field,” Pachall said. “So we just put that to work and got it done.”
TCU head coach Gary Patterson said Pachall’s playing Saturday didn’t surprise him, and that it was only a matter of time before the team, as a whole, rose to the occasion and finished off a comeback.
“To be honest with you, he’s played that way all year,” Patterson said. “I told them I was waiting for a time when we’d show our swagger and find a way to finish and be a good football team. Today we were able to do that.”
Comebacks like the one Saturday are what get people to trust in a young quarterback like Pachall, Patterson said.
“I think people believe in Casey Pachall,” Patterson said. “We’ve come back enough that we knew we’d be able to get the ball and go back down the field.”
But Patterson even admitted what transpired Saturday afternoon was something special.
“You saw two great quarterbacks,” Patterson said. “One that’s a senior (Moore), and one that’s a sophomore (Pachall). Hopefully, Casey keeps progressing. I told him at the beginning of the week: I said, ‘Games like these are how legends are made.’”