FORT WORTH, Texas -- Gary Patterson couldn't hide his smile.
"As you can tell," he said after No. 8 TCU's 31-24 win over No. 23 West Virginia, "I'm excited about this one."
Not because it moved his Horned Frogs to 5-0 and inched closer to a possible ascent into the top five. Not because, thanks to Iowa State's upset of No. 3 Oklahoma earlier in the day, the Horned Frogs are the Big 12's last undefeated team.
Patterson was just happy to survive.
"Holy moly, I should have taken three baby aspirin, not two," Patterson said. "You find ways to win."
Finding ways to win means holding West Virginia to three points in the first half thanks to four Adam Nunez punts that pinned the Mountaineers inside their own five-yard line.
"That has as much to do with anything with them having three points at half," Patterson said.
The Horned Frogs turned another Nunez punt into a touchdown after it hit a West Virginia player on the way down and TCU recovered it. It helped to catch breaks late when a West Virginia interception near the goal line was overturned, giving way to the game-winning touchdown for quarterback Kenny Hill, who finished with a receiving, rushing and passing touchdown.
West Virginia's final drive hit a wall when David Sills, who caught two TDs, was flagged for offensive pass interference and stuck WVU into a first-and-25 hole it couldn't escape.
"I won't talk about officials ever," WVU coach Dana Holgorsen said. "I'd like to, but don't want to."
Sills called it a "tough call to make."
"I don't know what to say other than I watched David get held and come off and make a really good play," WVU quarterback Will Grier said.
THIS WAS CALLED PASS INTERFERENCE ON WVU!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! pic.twitter.com/8YiDbkmmM0- Sports Dude™ (@ImTheSportsDude) October 7, 2017
A first-half fist fight turned into a second-half shootout with four third-quarter touchdowns, all longer than 45 yards. When it was over, TCU was left standing, and when it looked around the Big 12, it couldn't find another team without a loss. The Horned Frogs still have plenty to prove, but for now, they've gone from league title afterthought to conference favorite, with a hopeful eye toward the playoff.
"That's a big-time win," Hill said. "We're sitting at the top of the conference right now, but everybody's going to try to knock us off. Everybody wants to be up there, too."
Patterson has only one Big 12 title ring, but he has five more in two other conferences. He couldn't stop smiling because he knew even if Saturday's win hardly made a statement, it was the kind of win he's enjoyed over and over again on the way to those first five titles.
"I would bet every game is going to be like this," Patterson said. He laughed and answered no when asked if he felt any comfort about their perch atop the Big 12. "If you're going to win a championship, as a general rule, and this has been every year I've been here in 17 years as a head coach, you win about three or four every year that are ugly."
Coughing up a 14-point lead is ugly indeed. Hill helped the Horned Frogs regain it with a rushing touchdown in the fourth quarter and a 48-yard receiving touchdown on a trick play late in the third.
It was the same throwback play TCU completed for a score to Trevone Boykin in the 2014 regular-season finale against Iowa State, a 55-3 win that wasn't enough to push them into the playoff. It was a simple end around to speedster KaVontae Turpin who threw it back to Hill, who had a convoy of four offensive linemen. The Horned Frogs practiced it several times during the week, and Hill kept pushing for it to be included in the gameplan.
"If you throw it to me, I'm going to score," Hill told the coaching staff during the week.
"When they called it, I was like, 'Let's go man!' If they go with Turp like I think they will, I'll have it."
West Virginia's defense did exactly that, but the Horned Frogs allowed safety Derrek Pitts to break through the convoy. Hill stiff-armed him and outran the rest of the defense to put the Horned Frogs up, 24-17.
"In practice," Hill said, "It was a lot easier. But that's how we drew it up."
TCU QB Kenny Hill scores on a 48-yard catch after a trick play. pic.twitter.com/1foWDj01zn- Sporting News (@sportingnews) October 7, 2017
It was a dream day for TCU, which started the day with a national showcase on ESPN's "College Gameday" and ended it as the new Big 12 favorite. Patterson can't ask for anything more, but he can channel the "Lego Movie."
"Everything that went on today," Patterson said, "was awesome."