DALLAS — Maybe Texas Tech should have played a few more games at Cotton Bowl Stadium this year.
A stadium that has haunted the Red Raiders for so many years, refusing to render a Tech win, became the favorite place for quarterback Taylor Potts this season.
At least according to his statistics.
Potts was nearly perfect on Saturday in his final game as a Red Raider, guiding Tech to a 45-38 win over Northwestern while taking home MVP honors in the inaugural TicketCity Bowl. It was the first Tech win in a bowl game at Cotton Bowl Stadium after losing four previous Cotton Bowls.
Potts completed 43 of 56 passes for 369 yards and four touchdowns while running one in for another on a double-pass play. He now has 831 passing yards and eight touchdown passes in two games at the historic stadium while completing 85 of 115 passes and getting two wins.
"I had pretty good protection today, and I will be the first to say that," Potts said. "Playing behind those five guys all season was surly a privilege. They got so much better from the time we played SMU when I got hit eight or nine times, and I thought it was going to be a long season, to playing in the bowl game now where I didn't get touched one time."
And it would not have been a proper Tech win if the game didn't have enough adversity mixed in for the Red Raiders to overcome like the rest of the season. It all happened and came out in Tech's favor when it could have very easily gone the other way, losing six starters to injuries in the first half including senior linebacker Bront Bird and senior running back Baron Batch.
Tech (8-5) appeared to be in complete control at halftime after jumping out to a 24-6 lead following a somewhat shaky start, scoring twice in the final four minutes before halftime.
But Ben McRoy fumbled the kickoff following the break and Northwestern began mounting a comeback.
McRoy was back as the main kickoff person since sophomore Eric Stephens was now the primary running back handling all the duties and lived up to his part of the bargain without Batch.
His biggest run came on the first offensive play for Tech following the fumble and Northwestern field goal, running 86 yards for a touchdown — the longest play this season for the Red Raiders.
Stephens ended the day with 128 yards on 14 carries — a positive experience for the young back who had plenty of fumble problems earlier in the year and appears to be back on track in becoming the primary running back for Tech next season.
"Eric's been a mainstay for us all year long," Tuberville said. "He's a guy that's hard to tackle one-one-one if he gets passed the line of scrimmage. … He's a guy that really going to be a solid running back for us."
And he was especially solid in the final minutes of the game when Tech needed him to carry the ball nine times on the final drive to keep the clock going and put Northwestern away.
The Wildcats (7-6) scored 29 points in the final 21 minutes after trailing 31-9 on Stephens' long touchdown run. Tech attempted another onside kick to try and put away Northwestern and perhaps the bad memories of the failed attempt against Baylor in the same stadium this season, but once again saw it backfire as Northwestern scored two plays later to pull within 14. Then a Potts pass bounced out of Detron Lewis' hands and into defensive back Jordan Mabin's hands to make it a one-possession game with just 5:37 to play.
"We just couldn't get that knockout punch in," said Tuberville, who admitted after the game that the onside kick was his idea. "They just kept coming back and they have done that all year long."
Northwestern got one more chance to even the score or try and win after getting the ball back with 25 second left but was finally done in when the pass was intercepted by Tech, ending the game.
"We overcame adversity all year long," Tuberville said. "We won eight games, and I think about midway through the season people were wondering if we were going to win three or four, much less eight, because of these two guys and a lot of good seniors, they really persevered and pushed us through. So, we just have to make enough plays to continue to win a few games. Eight games is, I think, a good start for this group.
"As I told the younger players, when we win the championship a few years from now it is going to be because these seniors and what they did in the last year and continue to build this football program. They fought back the adversity and welcomed us as coaches and myself with open arms and were able to continue to get better and better, and we will continue to do that."