DALLAS – As Tommy Tuberville talked about Eric Stephens after Saturday’s TicketCity Bowl, Taylor Potts and Lyle Leong kept grinning at each other.
Then, as soon as the coach finished and without being prompted, Potts took a playful jab at his favorite receiver.
“Lyle almost had his first tackle on Eric’s run,” said the Texas Tech quarterback, referring to an 86-yard touchdown in which Leong nearly tripped up his teammate near the goal line. “I was rooting for you, man.”
The longtime friends and teammates could afford to laugh about the near mishap,
and somewhat embarrassing moment for Leong, because they had just concluded their college careers with arguably their best performances as Red Raiders. The 2006 Abilene High School graduates, who began playing together in third grade, teamed up to lead Tech to a 45-38 win against Northwestern in front of 40,121 fans at Cotton Bowl Stadium.
Potts was named most valuable player after passing for 369 yards and four touchdowns while also rushing for a score. Leong had game highs of 10 receptions for 118 yards and two TDs, and he also surpassed Jarrett Hicks for second place on Tech’s career touchdown receptions list.
“It’s a great feeling going out with a good game and with somebody you grew up with your whole life,” Leong said. “At the same time, it’s pretty sad that this is the last time I’m going to play with him.
“It’s really sad, but at the same time, I’m glad. Not many people can say that they’ve accomplished what we’ve accomplished through each stage in our life. It’s just been a blessing, and I just thank God for putting him in my life.”
Potts echoed the sentiment, saying it’s been a “privilege” to play alongside Leong. The latter caught a 6-yard TD pass to give Tech a 24-6 lead late in the first half, and scored the team’s last touchdown in the fourth quarter when he hauled in a third-down pass, angled toward the sideline and extended the ball inside the pylon before going out of bounds.
“It makes my job pretty easy when you’ve got a guy like Lyle catching those third-down passes that only he could (catch) and then actually turn it into a touchdown,” Potts said. “Our entire career he’s made some really good plays, so it’s been a lot of fun.”
Potts, who also credited Tech’s other receivers, running backs and offensive linemen for what he called one of the unit’s best games of the year, had an especially good time. Northwestern’s pass rush barely touched him, his four passing TDs matched Tech’s bowl-game record, and he got to be a receiver/running back late in the second quarter.
Potts threw a screen pass to Austin Zouzalik, who immediately threw it back to Potts, and the quarterback waltzed into the end zone untouched for a 13-yard score. It went down as a rushing TD because Zouzalik threw a backward pass.
“It’s been a great week,” Potts said. “It’s been a great five years. It’s gone by really fast, but I was really glad we won today.”
So was Leong, who afterward was still trying to come to terms with the idea that he and Potts might never again compete together on a football field, after having stuck together since playing pickup games in a park when they were kids.
“It was an honor alongside Taylor,” Leong said. “Hopefully we’ll meet up again.”
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