Story by Ben Everett | Sports Editor, Video by Noah Torr | Broadcast Reporter
Baylor football opened their season with a 55-27 win over Abilene Christian Saturday night at McLane Stadium.
The win marked head coach Matt Rhule’s first in McLane Stadium and the Bears (1-0) have already matched their win total from last season when they went 1-11.
Senior quarterback Jalan McClendon, a graduate transfer from NC State, led the way with 173 passing yards and two touchdowns while sophomore running back John Lovett contributed a career-high 115 rushing yards and three touchdowns.
Rhule said McClendon’s performance wasn’t surprising given his size and experience.
“I think if you watch Jalan out there you see he’s got physical tools,” Rhule said. “He can do a lot of things. He got out there and the moment wasn’t too big for him.”
Sophomore quarterback Charlie Brewer started the game, but was ruled out at halftime due to an undisclosed back injury. Senior left tackle Josh Malin was also injured during the game.
Despite a 13-yard carry by junior running back JaMycal Hasty, Baylor’s first offensive possession fizzled out when Brewer missed senior wide receiver Jalen Hurd on a slant and the Bears were forced to punt.
Senior safety Verkedric Vaughns stuffed a short pass by ACU sophomore quarterback Luke Anthony to prompt a Wildcat punt and give Baylor the ball near midfield.
Brewer found senior wide receiver Chris Platt near the goal line, but an offensive pass interference call stalled Baylor’s second drive. Junior kicker Connor Martin nailed a 35-yard field goal to give Baylor a 3-0 lead with 9:39 remaining in the first quarter.
McClendon replaced Brewer on the Bears’ third series of the game and immediately found Hasty on a 34-yard pass. Two plays later, McClendon threw his first touchdown in a Baylor uniform, finding Hurd on a 25-yard pass to put the Bears up 10-0 at the 5:27 mark of the first quarter.
Following an interception by freshman linebacker Terrel Bernard which set the Bears up at the ACU 15-yard line, McClendon found junior wide receiver Marques Jones in the end-zone to put Baylor up 17-0 with 2:39 left in the first quarter. Jones, who received a scholarship last week after being a walk-on for two years, notched his first career touchdown.
Rhule said Jones receiving a scholarship is more than just a feel-good story; he is a valuable contributor to the team.
“That’s not just a cool story,” Rhule said. “That catch he made in the corner, that’s a big time football catch.”
ACU responded quickly with Anthony connecting on a 54-yard pass to senior wide receiver D.J. Fuller to cut the lead to 17-7 at the 1:41 mark of the first quarter.
Brewer returned to lead the Baylor offense in the second quarter, but a strong running game made the difference on Baylor’s third touchdown drive. Back-to-back runs by Lovett and Hasty resulted in a score as Hasty punched it in from three yards out. Baylor took a 24-7 lead at the 11:24 mark of the second quarter after Martin’s extra point sailed through the uprights.
The Wildcats put together a steady drive and found themselves at the Baylor 8-yard line after a late hit out of bounds penalty on the Bears. Baylor junior defensive end James Lockhart sacked Anthony on third down to force a field goal attempt. Sophomore kicker Oscar Hernandez converted from 34 yards out to make it a 24-10 game with 5:30 left in the half.
Baylor responded quickly with Hasty busting loose for a 54-yard touchdown run to put the Bears up 31-10 at the 4:08 mark of the second quarter.
ACU junior running back Billy McCrary took a handoff 75 yards to the end zone on the next drive as the Wildcats cut the lead back to 31-17 just 18 seconds after Hasty’s run.
McClendon returned for the Baylor offense and found sophomore running back Trestan Ebner on a 23-yard pass to set up the Bears in enemy territory. Lovett finished the job with a 34-yard touchdown run to make it 38-17 Baylor with under two minutes remaining in the half.
The Wildcats finished off a last second drive with a 46-yard field goal as they trailed 38-20 going into the half.
Brewer found junior wide receiver Denzel Mims in stride for a 55-yard pass to give the Bears good field position at the start of the second half. Baylor took a 45-20 lead at the 10:55 mark when Lovett punched in a three-yard touchdown.
McCrary broke free for his second big run of the day, this one for 47 yards, to set up ACU in the red zone. Anthony finished the job with a touchdown pass to junior wide receiver Chase Cokley to make it a 45-27 game with 6:53 left in the third quarter.
On the ensuing Baylor drive, McClendon couldn’t connect with Platt in the end zone, but Martin salvaged the drive with a career-long 50-yard field goal to give Baylor a 48-27 lead at the 3:24 mark of the third quarter.
The Bears scored again on a seven-yard rush by Lovett to take a 55-27 lead at the 9:18 mark of the final quarter to seal the win.
The Bears look to get a road win when they face UTSA at 6 p.m. on Sept. 8 in San Antonio.