Johnston, Winters Named Fiesta Bowl MVPs


Max Duggan #15 of the TCU Horned Frogs reacts after rushing for a touchdown. | Image by Norm Hall/Getty Images

The Vrbo Fiesta Bowl proved an immensely entertaining affair as the No.2 Michigan Wolverines and the No.3 TCU Horned Frogs duked it out for 60 minutes to determine who would advance to the College Football Playoffs National Championship Game.

TCU emerged victorious in a historic 51-45 slugfest, the highest-scoring Fiesta Bowl in history.

While there were several tremendous players on the field Saturday, TCU senior linebacker Dee Winters and junior wide receiver Quentin Johnston stood out. Winters was named the Defensive MVP, and Johnston was the Offensive MVP.

Both players made significant contributions that were key to the Frogs advancing to the school’s first-ever national championship game.

Winters was a menace for the Horned Frogs on defense, with seven tackles, including three tackles for loss, a pass breakup, and an interception returned for a touchdown. The pick-six was a demonstration of athleticism and football intelligence as Winters sat down on a J.J. McCarthy slant-pass, bursting forward and snagging the ball out of the air, then rumbling uninterrupted to pay dirt.

Beyond those plays, Winters flew around, forcing running plays to go away from blockers, causing McCarthy to make desperation throws, and generally harassing the Wolverines’ attempts all over the field. He was also a significant factor in Dylan Horton’s recording of four sacks.

The senior linebacker out of 2A Burton (TX) High School showcased strength, speed, and determination that may make him an attractive option for NFL teams in the 2023 Draft.

If the pick-six by Winters was not dramatic enough of a play, then maybe the 76-yard catch-and-run by Johnston makes the cut.

Early in the fourth quarter, leading by just three points after a rebound by Michigan, Johnston took a dump-off pass several yards behind the line of scrimmage as quarterback Max Duggan was getting pressure. Johnston stutter-stepped by one Michigan defender, and it was off to the races as the Frogs receiver demonstrated his sustained speed.

Johnston finished the game with six receptions for 163 yards. The 2022-23 season marked career highs for Johnston, who recorded his first-ever 1,000+ yard season and has six touchdowns, none more significant than the score that extended the Horned Frogs’ lead to 10 with just over 13 minutes remaining in the game.

Johnston, a junior out of Temple (TX) High School, is expected to forgo his senior season and become a first-round selection in the 2023 NFL Draft.

Speaking to the media after the game, both Winters and Johnston said that comments from analysts about the Wolverines being the more physical team were used as motivation during the game. Coach Sonny Dykes agreed with his players.

“I couldn’t be more proud of these guys and the rest of our team,” Dykes said. “It was a hard-fought game, and I thought both teams really played hard, and I am really proud of these guys. We talked all week leading up to the game about how important it was going to be physical. I thought we were definitely the most physical team on the field tonight.”

The Horned Frogs will need to keep the physicality going when they travel to Inglewood, California, for the CFP National Championship on January 9. TCU will face No.1 ranked Georgia for the title.

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