In what was the second Cinderella story-type game of the season, the Baylor football team defeated Vanderbilt 45-38 in the Texas Bowl and notched their first winning record since 2016! The Bears (7-6) and the Commodores (6-7) battled in a shootout all night, fighting for one of the offenses to make a mistake upon which the other team could capitalize. In head coach Matt Rhule’s second season, the Bears earned their first bowl victory in two years. Baylor recorded 668 total yards following sophomore QB Charlie Brewer’s stellar performance in which he completed 21 of 34 attempts for 384 yards with two TDs and one interception. He also led the team in the rushing game, amassing 16 carries for 109 yards with one TD. The Bears only had one turnover and seven penalties for 50 yards as they held the ball for 35:26. Baylor was surprisingly perfect on fourth down- converting five of five attempts to keep themselves in the close ball game.
Vanderbilt scored quickly in the first quarter following Khari Blasingame’s 65-yard rushing TD in the first minute of the game. The Baylor offense responded quickly with Brewer hitting junior WR Denzel Mims on a 31-yard pass before amassing short rushes by junior RB JaMycal Hasty and sophomore RB John Lovett. A 24-yard Brewer rush and a close incomplete pass to Mims led to sophomore K Connor Martin’s first (and only) FG of the day. Baylor regained control of the ball after Vandy failed to score on their next drive. Brewer connected with Mims again on a huge 35-yard pass on 3rd down, which was quickly taken back following a Baylor ineligible receiver. Instead of fretting, Mims ran the exact same route on the next play and caught a 30-yard pass before freshman WR Tyquan Thornton snagged a 19-yard one. Freshman TE Christoph Henle added a five-yard catch to set up Lovett’s 12-yard rushing score. With only two minutes left in the quarter, Vanderbilt’s Ke’Shawn Vaughn found a gap in the Baylor defense and quickly rushed for 68-yards to the house on his first score. The first quarter ended with Vanderbilt leading 14-10.
In the Bears’ opening series of the second quarter, Ebner and Brewer rushed for five and 12 yards, respectively, before Brewer was sacked for the first time of the day. Brewer found freshman WR Josh Fleeks for a pair of catches for 10 and 11 yards and Hasty added rushing attempts of 15 and 18-yards for the Baylor score. Ke’Shawn Vaughn once again responded within minutes, rushing for 69-yards to the Baylor endzone to keep the Vanderbilt lead. The Bears drove downfield on their next possession, but Martin booted a wide left on his FG attempt to keep the score at 21-17 in favor of the Commodores. Vanderbilt responded with a FG attempt of their own, which flew far left so the quarter ended without another score.
Baylor opened the second half of the game with Brewer completing short passes to Fleeks, Mims, and Thornton of seven, five, and 23 yards, respectively, before handing the ball off to Ebner, who ran for a 34-yard TD. Vaughn tried to quickly respond, but the Bears’ defense shut him down and junior LB/S Blake Lynch sacked QB Kyle Shurmur on 3rd and five to force a Vanderbilt punt. Brewer showed his wheels on the next drive, rushing 38-yards on a keeper before completing passes of 19 and 33 yards to Lovett and Ebner. Brewer was sacked again, stalling the drive on third down, but completed a crucial 15-yard pass to Mims on 4th and 13 to get the first down. A 13-yard Ebner rush set up Brewer’s 1-yard run in for the TD. The Bears forced a fumble on Vandy’s next series, which Lynch recovered, but couldn’t capitalize on the field position, so they were forced to punt. The Commodores caught up on a 52-yard rush and Blasingame’s 2-yard run in TD. The third quarter finished at 31-28 Baylor.
The Bears marched down the field in their first series of the fourth quarter, but Brewer’s pass to Mims in the endzone was insanely intercepted as he fell to the ground and the ball bounced off of his legs into the Vandy CB’s hands. Once the Commodores’ offense took the field, the ball went straight into Vaughn’s hold and he took off for 66-yards to set up Blasingame’s one-yard rushing score. Within 12 seconds, Brewer completed a pass to Ebner, who ran the ball in for a 75-yard TD to swap the lead in Baylor’s favor. Baylor’s defense held strong on Vanderbilt’s next possession, forcing them to only kick a FG and tie the score at 38-38. With five minutes left in the game, the Bears’ offense took the field once again with Ebner rushing for 11 and six yards and Brewer added a six yard run before hitting junior WR Marques Jones for the game-winning TD (and his second of the season).
Brewer, Ebner, Hasty, and Lovett all saw rushing attempts and each scored a TD on the ground. The receiving corps had a number of catches in different hands: Mims, Fleeks, Thornton, Henle, Jones, senior Chris Platt, and sophomore R.J. Sneed with Ebner and Jones adding two scores of their own. Baylor’s defense amassed 41 tackles with three for a loss of 14 yards, one sack for three yards (sophomore DT James Lynch), seven pass break ups (senior S Chris Miller with one, junior LB Clay Johnston had two, senior S Verkedric Vaughns had one, and senior CB Derrek Thomas notched three), one forced fumble (junior LB/S Henry Black), one fumble recovered (Blake Lynch), and two QB hurries (senior DT Ira Lewis and Black). The Bears finished with a victory for the seniors and a winning record in Rhule’s second year at the helm. They couldn’t be any more deserving of the win than they are right now. What a turn around from 1-11 last year to 7-6 this year! Congratulations on a phenomenal season, boys!