By Jessika Harkay | Sports Writer, Video by Drake Toll | Broadcast Reporter
Eight touchdowns, two blocked kicks and over 500 yards of total offense later, Baylor opened its season with a blowout 56-17 victory against Stephen F. Austin, getting a season-opening win for the second-consecutive year.
Even with 15 returning starters, 12 of whom are seniors, Saturday’s game was a big day for the younger Bears.
Sophomore running back Trestan Ebner led the team with three touchdowns and 40 receiving yards, sophomore wide receiver R.J. Sneed clinched his first two career touchdowns, true freshman Gabe Hall blocked two kicks and sophomore quarterback Gerry Bohanon saw action in the second half with 51 passing yards and 84 rushing.
Head coach Matt Rhule was proud that the game marked many players first collegiate experiences as coaches spent the end of the game “scrambling around trying to get guys in for even one play.”
“It was one of those games where we did enough good things to be happy but enough things that I can get upset about tomorrow and correct,” Rhule said. “Thirty-four guys played their first college football, so very happy for them. Two first time starters. Couple guys that scored their first touchdown. Two great plays. Gerry, getting a chance to see what Gerry can do. I thought there were a lot of things that were good. We didn’t have a lot of penalties, until some silly things late. So we looked like a good football team at times.”
Bohanon agreed, explaining how he felt the real-game opportunity helped each player develop.
“No matter if you’re one, two or three, we all prepare the same way,” Bohanon said. “I feel the coaches did a good job with the game plan. And even though we’re two’s and three’s we went out there and did our jobs.”
After forcing the Lumberjacks to a three-and-out in their opening drive, the Bears blocked the punt.
Then with good field position to open their first possession, quarterback Charlie Brewer led the Bears to a 45 yard scoring drive with the help of junior running back John Lovett with an explosive run for 15 yards, followed by 16-yard touchdown catch by Ebner.
Once Baylor led 14-0 after their first two possessions, SFA countered with their own touchdown, their first-ever points against the Bears in five meetings.
Rhule’s disappointment was evident when he brought his team off the field and described how he simply asked them “is this how we’re going to play?”
“We can’t be a team that all of a sudden we get up 14-0 we start relaxing, that’s just not how you play football. And you have to answer scores with scores and when you have someone down, you have to keep them down, you can’t allow them to have life,” Rhule said. “We blocked one punt. Let’s go block some more. Let’s go make the plays we’re capable of making. And we made some, we missed some.”
Something sparked momentum for the Bears afterwards as they went into the half leading 35-7. Three of the five first half touchdowns were credited to Ebner, including an impressive run in which he reversed direction after being trapped by defenders, and then found a way to scamper into the end zone.
“I saw a lot of white jerseys. I saw a couple guys coming from my right side and I noticed their angle was off,” Ebner said. “So I figured I could reverse the field and it’s one of those plays that you do it and it works or you look really stupid.”
On the night, Brewer was 21-31 for 199 yards and 3 touchdowns, getting the ball into the hands of 10 different receivers. Bohanon took over early in the third, and with the Lumberjacks unable to gain any momentum, the Bears led the matchup into the fourth quarter with 35 unanswered points.
A big part of the offensive’s success was granted to third down conversions (8-13) Rhule said.
“I think one of the reasons why we made the jump we made last year is we made a huge jump, I think we were 29th in the country in third down,” Rhule expanded. “Part of that is being efficient in first and second downs and being in manageable third downs. So I thought we did a good job of that.”
SFA scored 10 points in the final 15 minutes before Baylor got one more touchdown from sophomore running back Abram Smith to wrap up the 56-17 victory.
The Bears go into week two hosting UTSA at 3 p.m., Saturday Sept. 7 at McLane Stadium.