Bears pick up opening win on explosive special teams plays from Ebner

By DJ Ramirez | Sports Editor

Baylor football earned Dave Aranda his first win as head coach with a 47-14 victory over the Kansas Jayhawks Saturday at McLane Stadium.

Senior running back Tresten Ebner made his mark on Baylor history, scoring four touchdowns on the night, including two on special teams. Ebner became the first player to score a return TD in seven years and the first two score two in the same game.

It’s also the first time in Big 12 history that has scored three different kinds of touchdowns in the same game: one rushing, one received and two on returns. After piling up 272 all-purpose yards against the Jayhawks, Ebner said he was grateful for the opportunity to have played a great game.

“The first one, the dude played it too tight, and I made a cut, and Johnathan Lovett hustled his tail off and helped me with my lead block, and I was able to get around the edge and score,” Ebner said. “I’m just thankful for all my blockers in the effort.”

The Bears started off sloppy, looking like what they were — a team who hadn’t played a game since Jan. 1, starting over with a new coaching staff and had several young players making debuts. Baylor was missing three offensive linemen in Jake Burton, Blake Bedier and Xavier Newman-Johnson.

JUCO transfer Mose Jeffrey (O-line), sophomore defensive tackles Josh Landry and Cole Maxwell and junior linebacker Ashton Logan made their first career starts on Saturday. Twelve different players made first-time appearances for the Bears against the Jayhawks.

Kansas broke the scoring first, reaching the end zone on a 21-yard run by junior running Pooka Williams Jr. in the opening drive. Baylor punted away the ball on the following drive, losing a solid first down pass from senior quarterback Charlie Brewer to sophomore tight end Ben Sims thanks to a holding penalty by sophomore left tackle Casey Phillips. The Bears piled up 95 penalty yards on eight flags, including a targeting call on junior safety Christian Morgan, all in the first half.

The Bears evened things up with 5:24 left in the quarter on three straight carries by Ebner, then took the lead in the second quarter with a 60-yard, 20-play scoring drive that ended in a John Mayers 47-yard field goal. Brewer connected with Ebner with an 18-yard pass after junior linebackers Ashton Logan and Jalen Pitre thwarted KU freshman quarterback Jalon Daniels’ offensive attempts on a three-and-out.

Junior linebacker Terrel Bernard said the defense just needed to make a few adjustments in order to get where they needed in this game.

“It was really just working on our communication,” Bernard said. “I think everyone was a little rusty. They kind of went in some different personnels that we weren’t ready for, and they went a little bit of tempo on us. I think after that we kind of settled in and got the plan.”

Coming out of the half, the crowd erupted when Ebner took off on a mad dash to the house, scoring a 100-yard kick return touchdown to put the Bears ahead 24-7 just 16 seconds into the third quarter.

Baylor added to its lead on its next drive on a 7-yard rushing TD by senior running back John Lovett, who led all rushers with 78 yards on 17 carries.

Junior linebacker Terrel Bernard, proving his worth as a Preseason All-Big 12 selection, also made history Saturday night, completing the first safety at McLane Stadium and the first for the Bears since Bravvion Roy against TCU in 2017 in Fort Worth. Bernard finished the night with 2.5 sacks, 3.5 tackles for a loss and a game-high eight tackles.

With Kansas kicking from its own 20, Ebner grabbed the ball off the bounce from the 17-yard line and took off for his second return TD, this time for 83 yards, to make it 40-7 Bears.

The Jayhawks reached the end zone again with seven minutes left to play on 16-yard run by Williams. The Bears then iced the win with a 26-yard rush by redshirt freshman Craig “Sqwirl” Williams with four minutes left to go.

Baylor ended the night with 352 total yards of offense, 203 on the ground. Brewer capped off his first start of the season, his 31st career start, going 15-for-23 with 142 passing yards, 23 rushing yards on eight carries and one touchdown.

Aranda said he was proud of the way his team handled the challenges they faced in the opener. The first-year head coach noted that while in normal circumstances, teams learn to face adversity together on the field, but this coaching staff hadn’t had the chance to see how the players would react in real in-game situations.

“Usually you learn about your team on the grass,” Aranda said. “We’ve just spent so much time talking about adversity from a person perspective, just as people — whether it’s quarantine or racial issues, whether it’s what it feels like to be isolated for however many days … there’s been adversity all around us; having games postponed, and so those skills can be applied to football.”

The Bears will hit the country roads next week, facing West Virginia in Morgantown, W.Va., Saturday. Aranda said they’ll take the time to relax just for tonight, but Baylor will begin working on the Mountaineers on Sunday.