By Jessika Harkay | Sports Writer, Video by Drake Toll | Broadcast Reporter
Baylor ran up a 20-0 lead, then gave up 21 unanswered points before a clutch drive in the final minutes helped the Bears defeat Iowa State 23-21. Redshirt freshman John Mayers kicked his first career field goal with 0:21 to go to give Matt Rhule’s team its first conference win and their fourth straight victory to start the season.
After missing an early field goal in the first quarter, Rhule said when it came down to the final play, the team had confidence in Mayers.
“I told [sophomore kicker] Jay Sedgwick, ‘Jay pray for him, please’,” Rhule said. “He prayed on him – I said ‘you’re going to make the kick, and Jay prayed on him. He went out there and made the kick.”
And although it sounded like a successful offensive game, the matchup began slow — with neither team able to get on the board until the end of the second quarter.
The Bears were 0-6 on third down conversions and unable to gain any momentum prior to their first touchdown. Rhule said the main factor was that the Cyclone’s defense blitzed “90% of the time,” but to counter, the Bears began taking risks as Baylor sandwiched intermission with a pair of touchdowns.
One of the scores came with 0:58 left in the first half, where junior quarterback Charlie Brewer found senior wide receiver Denzel Mims who jumped over a defender for the score for a 9-yard pass.
To open the second half, Brewer engineered a 12 play, 75 yard march that ended with another scoring toss to Mims. This one was 24 yards, again to the left side of the end zone, and after the PAT was fumbled, the Bears led 13-0.
Late in the 3rd quarter Baylor scored again, going 90 yards in seven plays. The highlight was sophomore wide receiver Tyquan Thornton’s 35-yard scoring catch when he outran four defenders in the middle of the field. It capped a career day for the sophomore receiver who had 11 catches for 141 yards, his first-ever 100 yard receiving game.
Thornton said he knew it was his time to step up when he saw Mims double-teamed.
“The mindset was just, keep it Baylor football,” Thornton said. “It just felt good going out there and playing for your brothers.”
Rhule pointed out that Thornton’s new mindset and responsibility is the key to the receiver’s success.
“Tyquan, he about two weeks ago started practicing at a really high level and the plays are now coming.”
In the two-point win, Brewer threw for 307 yards (26-45) and three touchdowns. The quarterback was helped by Thornton’s big game, as well as Mims, who added six receptions, 106 yards and two touchdowns to Baylor’s offensive effort.
As Iowa then trailed 20-0, the 4th quarter marked the start of a comeback.
The Cyclones, behind sophomore quarterback Brock Purdy, scored on three straight possessions, the last one a 20-yard pass and run to tight end Charlie Kolar with 3:45 to go. That gave the visitors a 21-20 lead and set up the opportunity for Brewer and Mayers to reclaim the game for the Bears.
Brewer countered by leading the Bears 61 yards in their last drive to the Iowa State 21-yard line where Rhule decided on fourth down with four yards to go to give his kicker a chance to win the game from 38 yards out.
Mayers said it was the best experience of his life to clinch the game-winning score.
“I was just thinking about making the kick for the team. All glory to God,” Mayers said. “You either make it or miss it. The offense did a heck of a job to get the ball down there. Glad I had the opportunity and glad I could convert for the team.”
The win was a nail-biter, but also a character builder.
“I try to tell my guys, compete doesn’t mean to strive against, it means to strive with,” Rhule said. “It was 20-0 going into the fourth quarter. If they had not fought back we would not have this great feeling right now. We wouldn’t have had the chance to go and have a good win, but the fact that they fought back allowed us to be great.”
Saturday’s matchup marked Rhule’s 36th straight win when his team is up entering the fourth. Nevertheless, the third-year coach said the close game taught the team two things.
“Had we been better in the fourth quarter, it wouldn’t have been that close,” Rhule said. “We gave them 21 points. But on the flip side, just keep playing. I use the word ‘process’. All that means is playing as hard as you can play, one play at a time.”
The Bears prepare to face the Kansas State Wildcats at 2:30 p.m., next Saturday at Bill Snyder Family Stadium in Manhattan, Kan.