FORT WORTH, Texas – Greg McCoy returned the second-half kickoff 94 yards for a touchdown, and the TCU defense came up with a big play right after that as the 23rd-ranked Horned Frogs took control in a 38-17 victory over Louisiana-Monroe on Saturday.
TCU (2-1) matched a Mountain West Conference record with its 21st consecutive home win. It was also the 10th consecutive winning home opener under coach Gary Patterson, who got his 100th victory as the Horned Frogs' head coach.
Three plays after McCoy's sprint up the right sideline in front of the Louisiana-Monroe bench, the Warhawks (1-2) gave the ball back when Jyruss Edwards fumbled after taking a crushing blow from Stansly Maponga. D.J. Yendrey recovered at the 28, setting up Matthew Tucker's second TD run, a 1-yarder for a 35-17 lead less than 5 minutes into the second half. TCU's Ross Evans kicked a 28-yard field goal with 27 seconds remaining to boost the score to 38-17.
The Frogs led 21-17 before McCoy took the second-half kick at the 6, then took one step toward the middle of the field before cutting back toward the sideline. He ran nearly untouched to the end zone, his path completely clear once the kicker was knocked down near midfield.
Things certainly weren't that easy for the Horned Frogs before halftime, especially in the first quarter.
Louisiana-Monroe, which has never beaten a Top 25 team, led 17-14 on Tavarese Maye's 37-yard touchdown catch and already had piled up 189 total yards by the end of the first quarter.
This was the first game at Amon G. Carter Stadium since a major modernizing renovation began after their final home game last season, when the Frogs were 13-0 and won the Rose Bowl. The work isn't scheduled to completed until the 2012 opener.
Even though yellow tape marks off plenty of construction areas and the new upper deck is unfinished and unusable, Patterson and the TCU players kept their focus on the 100 yards of turf.
The Frogs haven't lost at home since 2007 against Utah, which won 21 in a row at home before a 47-7 loss to the Frogs in Salt Lake City last season, before Utah moved from the Mountain West to the Pac-12.
Patterson, promoted from defensive coordinator to head coach after the 2000 regular season, is 100-29. The only TCU coach to win more games is Dutch Meyer, with 109 from 1934-52. That included the Frogs' only AP national championship in 1938, their only other undefeated season until last year.
Every possession in the first quarter resulted in points before TCU and the Warhawks traded punts to start the second quarter.
TCU finally went ahead to stay only after getting a lucky break. Offsetting penalties wiped away Skye Dawson's fumbled punt return that the Warhawks had recovered at the 15.
Brandon Carter fielded the do-over kick and had an 18-yard return, setting up a 12-play, 73-yard drive that ended with Antoine Hicks' 2-yard TD run that made it 21-17.
After the Warhawks punted again with a minute left, TCU gave the ball back when R.J. Young reached out and stripped the ball from quarterback Casey Pachall's hand and recovered it with 10 seconds left at the 32. ULM got 6 yards on a quick pass, but Justin Manton's 43-yard field goal attempt on the final play was wide right.
Maye lunged forward in the middle of the end zone to grab his TD pass after cornerback Kevin White stumbled and fell against the receiver's legs.
ULM got a 23-yard field goal by Manton on the opening drive, though TCU quickly responded when Pachall hit Josh Boyce in stride at the 30 behind a defender for what turned into a 68-yard TD.
Backup quarterback Cody Wells played the second series for ULM and was 5-of-5 passing for 38 yards with a 22-yard TD to Brent Leonard for a 10-7 lead. TCU went right back down the field and got a 5-yard touchdown run by Tucker.
Louisiana-Monroe is 0-22 against Top 25 teams, including a 34-0 loss at fifth-ranked Florida State two weeks ago. The Warhawks had been outscored by an average margin of 46-9 their previous eight games against ranked teams before Saturday.