<
>

Rodgers' run, end-zone pick preserve TCU win

SAN DIEGO (AP) -- TCU played just well enough in its first visit
to San Diego to stay on track for the Mountain West Conference
championship.

Cory Rodgers ran 6 yards for the go-ahead score early in the
fourth quarter and David Roach had an interception in the end zone
as MWC newcomer TCU beat San Diego State 23-20 Saturday night, the
20th-ranked Horned Frogs' seventh straight win.

"We know we were very fortunate to get out of here with a
win," TCU coach Gary Patterson said.

Robert Merrill carried 29 times for a season-high 170 yards and
two touchdowns for TCU (8-1, 6-0), which had won its previous four
games by an average of 23.5 points. TCU rushed for 291 yards.

TCU can win the conference title outright if it beats
second-place Colorado State at home on Saturday. The Rams beat New
Mexico 35-25 on Friday night to improve to 4-1 in the conference.
TCU has two games left while the Colorado State has three.

It would be TCU's first outright title since winning the
Southwest Conference in 1958. Since then, the Horned Frogs have
shared five league titles.

"We knew this game was important because without it we couldn't
go home next week and win this thing outright in front of our own
fans," Patterson said. "You can't ask for anything more."

With the score tied at 13, Rodgers, a wide receiver, lined up in
a full-house backfield, took the handoff from Jeff Ballard and
scored on the third play of the fourth quarter for a 20-13 lead.
That capped a 13-play, 92-yard drive.

San Diego State (3-6, 2-4) moved to the TCU 2 before Roach
intercepted Kevin O'Connell's third-down pass with 9:28 to go. San
Diego State, knocked out of bowl eligibility, lost for the 19th
straight time to a ranked team. The Aztecs are assured of their
seventh straight non-winning season.

"The defense won the game for us," Merrill said. "If it
wasn't for them, we would have lost. We struggled at times on
offense to push the ball in, but they came up with big play after
big play, especially in the second half."

Said Roach: "Our offense did not play its usual game. But
they've lifted us up a number of times this year. Tonight it was
our turn to step it up."

TCU's Chris Manfredini kicked a 37-yard field goal with 3:50
left, and O'Connell threw an 8-yard TD pass to Jeff Webb with 2:20
left. TCU's Drew Coleman recovered the ensuing onside kick.

After committing an uncharacteristic three turnovers in the
first half, the Horned Frogs looked more like themselves with two
interceptions in the second half. TCU leads the nation with 30
takeaways and 19 interceptions. They've forced 20 turnovers in
their last five games, while committing just seven.

The Horned Frogs rallied from a 13-7 halftime deficit.

San Diego State went for it on fourth-and-3 from the TCU 38
midway through the third quarter, and Quincy Butler intercepted
O'Connell. That set up Merrill's 21-yard touchdown run with 5:02 to
go in the quarter. Manfredini shanked the PAT and the game was tied
at 13.

"If you're going to beat a team like TCU, you better be
aggressive," SDSU coach Tom Craft said. "I thought we played our
hearts out."

Merrill also scored on a 1-yard run on TCU's first possession of
the game.

SDSU went ahead 10-7 with three minutes left before halftime
when O'Connell ran untouched on a 26-yard keeper on third-and-6.

Two of TCU's three turnovers set up field goals by Garrett
Palmer.

Palmer kicked a 36-yarder as time expired at the end of the
second quarter for a 13-7 lead. The drive was set up when safety
Brett Sturm intercepted Ballard and returned it 27 yards to the TCU
46.

Early in the second quarter, Sturm knocked the ball loose from
Rodgers after a reception and Antwan Applewhite recovered just
before the ball went out of bounds at the TCU 20. That set up
Palmer's 37-yard field goal to pull the Aztecs to 7-3.

Palmer missed a 35-yard field goal attempt in the first quarter.

O'Connell was 25-of-46 for 235 yards, and ran 17 times for 49
yards.

SDSU's leading rusher, Lynell Hamilton, had bleeding in his
right hamstring and wasn't going to play, but two other running
backs were hurt during the game. Hamilton didn't come in until late
in the second quarter and finished with 15 yards on seven carries.