PASADENA - Montee Ball sprinted off right tackle, turned the corner and dove for the goal line. The sophomore's four-yard touchdown run with two minutes to play had just cut TCU's eight-point lead to two.
Then the Horned Frogs, who had been stout defensively for most of the game leading into UW's final drive, came through with the biggest play of the game.
And it helped them clinch their first Rose Bowl championship in school history, a 21-19 triumph in front of 94,118 people in attendance.
Out of the shotgun formation, Scott Tolzien tried to rope a pass into a wide-open Jacob Pedersen for the eventual tie, but instead Tank Carder batted the ball down, essentially sealing the victory.
As purple and white confetti fell over the storied Rose Bowl grass minutes later, UW players were in the midst of an unnerving heartbreak.
A season that was one of the best ever for the Badgers came crashing down like that batted football, and it didn't sit well.
"It's one thing to have this defeat happen if we don't learn from it," UW head coach Bret Bielema said. "We said some things in the locker room there, and you could tell by the expressions this is going to be something that burns in their memory for a long, long time.
"Don't know why it had to happen. Obviously, there was a very good football team on the other sideline, but we'll take this and we'll move forward."
Entering the 97th edition of the Rose Bowl game, much hype centered on Wisconsin's massive offensive line and TCU's smaller, quicker defensive line. Though UW had plenty of success on the ground - compiling 226 yards rushing against a TCU squad that had not yielded a 100-yard rusher on the season - it struggled to score in a consistent manner.
The Badgers had to settle for field goals when touchdowns looked probable, hampered drives with penalties and failed to convert a field goal early in the game that proved to be the difference on the scoreboard in the end.
"Penalties," Ball, who rushed for 132 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries, immediately stated when asked what went wrong. "Wisconsin football doesn't make penalties, especially before the snap and before we have a chance to make some yards. That killed us."
As a squad that entered Saturday's game as the least penalized team in the nation, Wisconsin routinely hamstrung drives with six penalties for a damaging 41 yards. False starts and pass interference's came at the most inopportune times and helped TCU stay on the field or keep UW off it.
"I'll give credit to TCU," Bielema said. "No doubt there are certain things out there today that we had some penalties that aren't normal for us. We didn't turn the ball over, which was good to see. But defensively we didn't get any back out."
That's in large part due to the play of offensive MVP Andy Dalton. The TCU senior was poised in the pocket, released the ball quickly and accurately and made plays when the Horned Frogs needed them.
He finished the day 15-of-23 passing for 219 yards and a touchdown and added 28 more on the ground. His numbers weren't exactly off the charts, but he was effective at managing the game and helped TCU score just enough points to win its first ever BCS game in front of its loyal followers.
"He's a good football player," J.J. Watt said. "You give your best football player the ball. They wanted him to run the ball, they wanted him to pass the ball and he had success doing it. So why not?
"We didn't stop him, and that's how you lose the football game."
Much like the Michigan State game earlier in the season, UW's only other loss, the Badgers defense couldn't get off the field when it needed to most. TCU finished the contest 6-of-10 on third downs and scored two of its three touchdowns after having picked up at least one third down.
"It's frustrating," senior Jay Valai said. "One thing about the secondary is that we're resilient. We're going to keep fighting and we'll never turn on each other no matter what. Give TCU all the respect in the world. I think we missed a couple of plays out there on the field, but they had some pretty good schemes out there, too.
"We watched a lot of film on them, but they made some plays. They changed some stuff up and we had to execute better hat on hat."
Dropped balls, missed opportunities, penalties and the like added up to a harrowing two-point loss that will sting the ire of Badger players, coaches and fans until opening day next fall, if not longer.
But if there is any solace to be had during the roughest of times, it can be found knowing that TCU executed at a high level, minimized its miscues and witnessed its top players step up and make plays at the most opportune times.
Essentially, in a game pitting two of the nation's top five teams, one was just a little cleaner and focused than the other. It just so happened to be the team in purple in white instead of cardinal and white.
"That's why it's the greatest game," senior quarterback Scott Tolzien said. "Because if you don't execute and you're on edges the other team's going to find a way to beat you.
"I think you also give credit to TCU for a good game plan and just playing their tails off. It was a four-quarter battle, and it was unfortunate all around for us."
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