Andy Dalton and No. 10 TCU slid their way through the icy mist, freezing cold and Air Force defense Saturday to keep their BCS hopes alive with a dicey 20-17 win over the Falcons.
With temperatures in the teens and a frozen mist and drizzle falling, Dalton threw for 198 yards, receiver Jeremy Kerley had a rushing touchdown and a 52-yard kickoff return and the Horned Frogs (5-0, 1-0 Mountain West) finished with 393 yards, all but 22 of them in the first three quarters.
But TCU had to fight for four quarters for this win, thanks to three turnovers, including two after driving inside the Air Force 10.
The third came late in the fourth quarter and led to an 8-yard touchdown run by Connor Dietz that cut the Air Force deficit to three with 57 seconds left. But TCU recovered the onside kick to end the suspense and improve to 5-0 for the first time since 2003.
The Falcons (3-3, 2-1) fell short because of an offense that produced only four plays of more than 15 yards and a starting quarterback, Dietz, who completed only one pass for 5 yards over the first three quarters.
TCU came in with the nation's top-ranked rushing defense — a stat that likely will suffer after allowing 229 yards against Air Force's triple option. But the defense was good enough to secure a win in nasty conditions — the kind of game Gary Patterson's team knew it would have to grind through if 2009 is going to be a special season.
And that is still a possibility.
With the win, TCU should stay, along with Boise State, in the top 10 — still a candidate to give the Bowl Championship Series some small-conference flavor come January.
Dietz finished 6-for-17 for 42 yards for the Falcons, but their biggest completion came on a trick play when receiver Jonathan Warzeka took a pitch and threw a 16-yard touchdown to Kevin Fogler to cut Air Force's deficit to 14-7 before halftime.
It was the first offensive touchdown for the Falcons in more than 11 quarters.
What Air Force really needed from its defense was a score or two. The Falcons defense came in with five touchdowns in five games, but did no scoring in this one despite hanging tough after staying on the field for nearly 29 minutes over the first three quarters.
A few minutes after TCU's second turnover, the Horned Frogs got the ball back and drove 41 yards to set up the first of two short field goals from Ross Evans. The second was set up by Kerley's long kickoff return after Air Force got its own field goal to cut the deficit to 17-10.
Turner ran for 72 yards and Jimmy Young had six catches for 113 yards for the Horned Frogs, who have gone on to win 11 games the last two times (2003, 2008) they've started the season with four straight victories.
Dietz, starting in place of injured Tim Jefferson (ankle) at quarterback, led the Falcons with 71 yards rushing on 15 carries.
Source: AP News