The No. 9 Baylor Football team has showed toughness and perseverance throughout the entirety of the 2021 season with many highs and a couple of lows, but yesterday’s matchup against Texas Tech (6-6, 3-6) proved to be the most difficult challenge of the year thus far. The Bears (10-2, 7-2) had many factors standing in their way of a dominant performance including 20 athletes suffering from the flu during the week, starting a backup QB for his first full game, facing a team now run by someone who coached on the Baylor sideline fewer than one month ago, and a midweek mini break for the holidays. And despite all of these antagonistic circumstances that could’ve derailed the Bears’ winning streak and chance to make the Big 12 title game for the second time in three years, Baylor somehow pulled out a win in the very last second. Keeping a perfect 7-0 home record for the first time since 2013 and getting a conference championship berth on Senior Day is exactly what this Baylor team and their group of extraordinarily loyal, hardworking, and resilient seniors deserves. For players like S Jalen Pitre who stuck it out as the lone recruit following former head coach Matt Rhule’s hiring in December 2016 and is now a finalist for the best DB in college football, earning a 27-24 victory over Texas Tech was just what the football gods wrote. The win may not have been as dominant as last week’s success against Kansas State (read my recap of that game here!), but every victory matters and the Bears have lots to be proud of this weekend! Redshirt freshman QB Blake Shapen completed 20 of 34 attempts for 254 yards and 2 TDs and added 7 carries for 24 yards. The Bears totaled 434 offensive yards (averaging about 5.2 yards per play) compared to Texas Tech’s 386 and picked up 3 penalties for a loss of 25 yards.
The Bears got the ball to start the game and after senior RB Abram Smith rushed for 0 yards and caught a 14-yard pass, Shapen connected with senior RB Trestan Ebner on a 61-yard bomb to the house for the Bears’ first score (which was Shapen’s longest completion of his career, according to Baylor Athletics). Upon kick return, senior S Jairon McVea forced a Red Raiders fumble (the first forced fumble of McVea’s career), which junior CB Mark Milton recovered (the first fumble recovery of Milton’s career) to immediately give Baylor the ball back at the Tech 42. Smith lost 3 yards on 2 carries and Shapen completed a 31-yard pass to Ebner before throwing a 4-yarder to senior WR Tyquan Thornton to set up freshman K Isaiah Hankins’ 28-yard field goal. The kick gave Baylor a 10-0 lead with 10:50 left in the 1st quarter. Senior LB Terrel Bernard notched a tackle for a loss of 3 yards on the first Texas Tech offensive play and Pitre and redshirt freshman S Lorando Johnson paired up to sack (the first sack of Johnson’s career) Red Raiders QB Donovan Smith for a loss of 7 yards, but Tech nailed a field goal to go up 10-3. Shapen threw a 1-yard pass to senior WR Drew Estrada and ran for 5 yards prior to Ebner’s 2-yard rush, but the Bears had to punt after a 3-and-out. Bernard’s tackle for a loss of 3 yards and sophomore LB Matt Jones’ QB hurry forced Texas Tech to punt with less than one minute left. Smith rushed for a 5-yard gain and Shapen threw an incomplete pass to close the 1st quarter.
Shapen threw a 6-yard pass to sophomore TE Drake Dabney for a 1st down before Smith ran for 4 yards and Thornton caught a 10-yarder. Shapen was sacked for a loss of 3 yards and a QB hurry forced him to throw an incomplete pass. Ebner caught a 20-yard pass from Shapen, but an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on the Bears stalled the offense with Shapen rushing for 4 yards on 2nd and 25 and throwing a 6-yard pass to Ebner. Junior CB Al Walcott was ejected from the game for a targeting penalty, but on 2nd and 9, senior CB Raleigh Texada sacked Smith for a loss of 10 yards and recovered Smith’s fumble (Texada’s career-first fumble recovery) at the Tech 24-yard-line. Smith rushed for 20 yards on 4 carries and sealed the drive with a 4-yard rush in the end zone to put the Bears up 17-3. Senior LB Ashton Logan’s QB hurry wasn’t enough to stop the Red Raiders’ series and Tech recorded their first TD to tighten Baylor’s lead to 17-10. Shapen rushed for 1-yard and Smith added 8 yards on 2 carries before the Bears punted with 30 seconds left. Tech got off one play and the clock ran out for halftime.
Texas Tech’s first drive ended with a punt and the Bears notched a 17-play series that ate up 6:01 in what was their longest drive of the season. Shapen completed 5-yard passes to senior WR R.J. Sneed and junior TE Ben Sims and Ebner ran for 8 yards on 2 carries. Smith rushed for 11 yards and Estrada added 1 before Shapen connected with Estrada on consecutive passes of 10 and 7 yards. Smith gained 11 yards on 3 runs and Shapen threw an 8-yard ball to Thornton, but Shapen’s passes on 2nd and 3rd down went incomplete and Hankins’ 41-yard field goal attempt was no good, leaving the Bears scoreless after dominating the 3rd quarter clock. Sophomore DL Gabe Hall and DT Siaki Ika combined for a QB hurry to force the Tech 3-and-out. Smith ran for 19 yards on 2 carries and Ebner added 4 on the ground. Shapen threw a 24-yard pass to Estrada and a 15-yard completion to Thornton sandwiching Ebner’s runs for a loss of 3 yards on 2 rushes. Ebner and Smith ran for 5 and 4 yards, respectively, at the end of the 3rd quarter.
Smith rushed for 1 yard on 2 carries and Shapen threw 2 incompletions, but Hankins nailed his 27-yard field goal to increase Baylor’s lead to 20-10. Senior S JT Woods added a tackle for a loss of 1 yard, but the Red Raiders quickly scored a TD to move up 20-17. Shapen’s 6-yard pass to Dabney was good and Smith’s 1 yard rush helped Shapen complete a 4-yarder to Sneed to give Baylor the 1st down. Smith ran for 3 yards and caught an 8-yard pass. Shapen threw an incompletion toward Thornton, but a Texas Tech pass interference penalty moved the Bears up to the Tech 21. Smith rushed for 12 yards on 2 carries and on 3rd and goal, Shapen hit Sims with a 9-yarder in the endzone to go up 27-17. Bernard broke up Tech’s next pass, but their QB Smith recorded a 75-yard TD pass for a 27-24 score. Smith rushed for 17 yards on 5 carries, Ebner had 3 yards on the ground, and Shapen added 16 on 2 rushes. Ebner carried the ball for 19 more yards on 3 attempts and Shapen ran for 1 yard before attempting a pass on 4th and 2 at the Tech 12, which fell incomplete. Tech played hurry up with almost 90 yards to go and 1:18 left in the game, but senior LB Bryson Jackson had a QB hurry, Jackson and junior DT Josh Landry combined for a tackle for a loss of 2 yards, and with 3 seconds left, the perfect Texas Tech K Jonathan Garibay (who two weeks ago made a 62-yard field goal to beat Iowa State) missed a 53-yard field goal to seal the Baylor victory.
4 Baylor athletes saw rushing attempts including Smith (30 carries for 117 yards and 1 TD tying the great Walter Abercrombie with the most 100-yard rushing games in one season (8) and ranking second on Baylor’s single-season rushing yards list (1,366)), Ebner (12 carries for 38 yards), Shapen (7 carries for 24 yards), and Estrada (1 carry for 1 yard). 7 received passes including Ebner (4 catches for 118 yards (a career high) and 1 TD becoming the only RB in program history with at least 124 receptions), Estrada (4 catches for 42 yards), Thornton (4 catches for 37 yards), Smith (2 catches for 22 yards), Sims (2 catches for 14 yards and 1 TD recording the most TDs by a TE in program history), Dabney (2 catches for 12 yards), and Sneed (2 catches for 9 yards). The defense amassed 48 tackles with 6 for a loss of 26 yards (Bernard, Pitre, Woods, Jackson, Texada, Johnson, Landry), 2 sacks for a loss of 17 yards (Pitre, Texada, Johnson), 2 forced fumbles (McVea, Texada), 2 fumble recoveries (Texada, Milton), 1 pass break up (Bernard), and 5 QB hurries (Hall, Jackson, Ika, Jones, Logan).
Baylor will move on to the Big 12 Championship game(!!!!) in a rematch against No. 5 Oklahoma State (11-1, 8-1) at AT&T Stadium on Saturday at 11 a.m. (CT).