Story by Bailey Brammer | Broadcast Managing Editor, Video by Noah Torr | Executive Producer
Baylor defeated Vanderbilt 45-38 in the Academy Sports + Outdoors Texas Bowl on Thursday evening in Houston.
After winning only one game in 2017, Baylor finished the 2018 season with a 7-6 record, which was the biggest turnaround in a Power Five conference this year. The Baylor Line also made an appearance at the Texas Bowl, which was the first bowl game ever to have the students run out on the field before kickoff.
Sophomore quarterback Charlie Brewer passed for 384 yards and led the team in rushing with 109 yards. The Bears, who traditionally played it safe on fourth downs this season, went 5-for-5 on fourth downs.
Baylor head coach Matt Rhule said this game demonstrated the grit and toughness of his team, and that he was proud of the many young players that stepped up because of injury.
“I’m very grateful for the bowl … that was a good football game,” Rhule said. “Hopefully our seniors leave feeling that they have left a legacy and hopefully our young players build off of it as we move into the future.”
Baylor went into the Texas Bowl without leading senior wide receiver Jalen Hurd, who underwent knee surgery in early December, as well as two-time All-Big 12 senior punter Drew Galitz, who tore his ACL before the Texas Tech game on Nov. 24.
In the first half, Vanderbilt made it on the board early with a 65-yard touchdown on a pass from Shurmur to fifth year running back Khari Blasingame. The Bears responded with a field goal, then forced Vandy to punt and got the ball to sophomore running back John Lovett for their first touchdown to bring the game to 10-7.
Vanderbilt picked up another long touchdown at the end of the first quarter from Vaughn. Baylor junior running back JaMycal Hasty then scored a second touchdown for the Bears on an 18-yard run to take back the lead at 17-14.
The Commodores and the Bears continued to go back-and-forth in the first half, with Vaughn scoring a third breakaway touchdown for Vandy and then both teams missing field goals to bring the score to 21-17 at the half.
Baylor took back the lead at the start of the third quarter with a 34-yard rushing touchdown from sophomore running back Trestan Ebner. The Bears forced the Commodores to punt with 8:33 left in the quarter after junior linebacker/safety Blake Lynch sacked Shurmur for three yards.
The Bears went for it on fourth down and 13 and Brewer connected with junior wide receiver Denzel Mims for a 15-yard pass. Baylor made it into the red zone and Brewer scored a rushing touchdown from one yard out, his seventh of the season.
“We were there to win,” Rhule said about the team’s five fourth down conversions. “We weren’t going to come out and be safe … we thought the best way to win the game was to keep possession of the ball.”
On the extra point kick, Vanderbilt was penalized for being offsides and junior kicker Connor Martin was taken off the field with an unspecified injury. Freshman kicker John Mayers stepped in for Martin and made the point, bringing the Baylor lead to 31-21.
Shurmur passed the ball to redshirt redshirt junior tight end Jared Pinkney for 32 yards, but junior corner back Jameson Houston forced a fumble, which was recovered by Lynch at the Baylor two-yard line in the first turnover of the game. Brewer failed to connect with his receivers and freshman punter Issac Power punted the ball to the Vanderbilt 46-yard line.
Blasingame notched his second touchdown for Vandy on a two-yard rush to decrease the Bears’ lead to 31-28 at the end of the third quarter. Baylor drove to the red zone for another score, but Brewer threw his first and only interception of the game, which was intended for Mims but caught by Vandy redshirt freshman defensive back Randall Haynie.
Vaughn rushed for 66 yards in what was almost a fifth long touchdown for the Commodores, but it was ruled that the ball was out of bounds just before the end zone. Blasingame rushed for one yard to take back the lead for Vandy at 35-31.
Brewer struck back right away with a pass to Ebner that resulted in a 75-yard touchdown to give the Bears the lead once more at 38-35 in just a 12 second play.
“It was just a simple play where I read the backend, if the middle is open, I take it,” Ebner said. “Charlie did a good job of throwing me away from the safety … It’s just a good play to open up.”
Vandy got the ball back with 9:19 left in the game and drove for almost six minutes just to pick up a field goal and tie the game at 38. Brewer then passed for 53 yards to junior wide receiver Marques Jones for another Baylor touchdown to give the Bears back the lead with less than two minutes left in the game.
Vanderbilt got the ball back but failed to convert and could not tie the game up once more, securing the win for the Bears.
“This game was a gift,” Rhule said. “We got a 13th game. We’re here because of all the gifts we’ve been given … Even in the winds of loss this year … We learned a lot from the TCU game, we learned a lot from the Duke game, they’re miserable when they happen, but if you’re smart and you’re tough and you’re loyal to each other, you’ll learn from the adversity.”
Baylor’s 2019 season begins on Aug. 31 against Stephen F. Austin University in McLane Stadium.