No. 16 Baylor defeats Texas 31-24 in a ‘spine-chilling’ finish

By Michael Haag | Sports Writer, Video by Braden Murray | Broadcast Reporter

Baylor football (7-1, 4-1) defeated the University of Texas 31-24 in a roller coaster of a matchup Saturday afternoon at McLane Stadium. The Longhorns (4-4, 2-3) were leading 21-10 early in the second half, but the Bears put up 14 points in the fourth quarter to secure the victory and remain undefeated at home this season. Senior running back Abram Smith led the way rushing, with 20 carries for 113 yards and one score.

Smith and senior hybrid safety Jalen Pitre said after the game that the crowd noise was incredible. Smith said that the noise, “Sent chills throughout my body.” Pitre said that the home crowd, “Definitely brought us some great momentum,” and, “Helped in a win for us this week.”

Head coach Dave Aranda after the game said that the team handled adversity a lot better than in recent weeks.

“I think you saw guys today battle adversity,” Aranda said. “Whereas, a couple of weeks ago we were in some adversity and didn’t handle it as well as we’d like. To be able to see guys handle adversity today individually [were] some big battles. And for us to come out on top with that, I credit the players, I credit the coaches.”

The Bears didn’t start well as on the second play of the game, junior quarterback Gerry Bohanon threw an interception, intended for senior wide receiver R.J. Sneed. Texas took over and scored the game’s first touchdown, putting them up 7-0. UT’s junior quarterback Casey Thompson threw a pass over the middle to junior wide receiver Joshua Moore for the 10-yard touchdown.

The Bears responded with a scoring drive of their own using some trickery. On UT’s 6-yard line, fifth-year senior running back Trestan Ebner took the handoff and pitched a backwards pass to senior wide receiver Tyquan Thornton. Thornton, who had never thrown for a touchdown in his career, lobbed a 6-yard forward pass over the middle to a wide open Sneed, evening the score at 7-7 halfway through the first quarter. Sneed ended the day with 94 yards on eight catches.

The Bears forced a three-and-out on UT’s next drive, to get the ball back. Freshman kicker Isaiah Hankins made a 38-yard field goal on a fourth-and-6, giving Baylor a 10-7 edge with just under a minute to go in the first quarter.

On the Longhorns’ second play of the next drive, Thompson heaved a dart to freshman wide receiver Xavier Worthy, who was wide open along the right side of the field, scoring the 63-yard touchdown untouched to give UT a 14-10 lead to end the first quarter.

Both teams traded possessions throughout the second quarter, as each defense stood tall. Bohanon threw his second interception of the game, and only his third of the season, but Baylor’s defense took it right back. As senior safety JT Woods grabbed a deflected pass, for his third interception of the season. Pitre said after the game that Woods is, “like a magnet to the ball,” with the way he constantly gets interceptions. Despite the turnover, the Longhorns maintained a 14-10 lead heading into the intermission.

On their first drive of the second half, UT converted three fourth downs to help extend the lead. Sophomore running back Bijan Robinson punched the score in on fourth-and-goal, giving the Longhorns a 21-10 lead.

Baylor responded, converting on a crucial fourth down play to keep their drive alive ending with Bohanon finding his way to the end zone for a 6-yard rushing touchdown, his seventh of the season. This cut the lead to 21-17, with under five minutes left in the third quarter.

Baylor’s defense forced a punt, and the offense took over to start the fourth quarter. Junior tight end Ben Sims took a handoff on a goal line play, finding pay-dirt with the 1-yard run. The Bears recaptured the lead, 24-21 with under 13 minutes of action left.

The Longhorns tried a little trickery of their own, faking a punt attempt, but were swallowed up, only gaining two yards as the Bears took over near midfield.

Baylor found the end zone again, using several outside pitches and option plays. In a drive that took less than a minute and a half, the Bears increased their lead by 10. Smith took an outside pitch and with a sweet cut back spin move, dusted the UT defense and took it to the house from 32 yards out. Pitre, who formerly played on the defensive side with Smith, called him “the truth,” after the game about his spin move. The Bears took the lead for good at 31-21 with under eight minutes left in the game.

The Longhorns drove into the red zone and settled for a field goal on a fourth-and-4 on the 9-yard line. That cut the lead down to seven, and the Bears’ offense was able to eat some time off the clock with a first down on their next drive before stalling. The Longhorns got the ball back, down seven with a little over two minutes to go in the game.

Baylor’s defense shut UT down, as Woods and senior cornerback Kalon Barnes both had huge pass breakups. Barnes’ deflection came on fourth down, allowing Bohanon and the offense to kneel the clock out and secure the 31-24 victory.

Pitre said that the defense practices those two-minute drill situations almost every day. He said they were conditioned for it and that it felt good to execute when it mattered most.

“So, that’s something we’re really conditioned on, it’s something that we really practice a lot,” Pitre said. “We just wanted to play sound football. We did blitz a couple of times in the last two minutes, and I think it was executed well. So, it was good to see us go out there and do that in the last two minutes of the game.”

Baylor heads on the road next week, facing Texas Christian University in Fort Worth. The game time and network is still to be determined. Aranda said that the team will have to continue playing at a high level on the road.

“We’re going to have to do it [execute] on the road with a home crowd that’s going to do what we did today,” Aranda said. “But I think it’s a big step to get in some adversity and fight through it.”