Miracle in the Magic Kingdom: Baylor football finds ‘juice’ in Orlando

Freshman cornerback Caden Jenkins (19) celebrates a 72-yard scoop and score in the fourth quarter of Baylor football's conference game against UCF on Saturday at FBC Mortgage Stadium in Orlando, Fla. Photo courtesy of Baylor Athletics

By Foster Nicholas | Sports Writer

When all signs pointed to a silent flight back to Waco due to another loss, Baylor football mounted the largest comeback in program history. Saturday’s 36-35 win over UCF could go down in the history books as “The Miracle in the Magic Kingdom.”

Stoic, phlegmatic and impassive: We’ve seen this movie before. As a last-ditch field goal by the Knights (3-2, 0-2 Big 12) drifted away from the uprights and the clock hit double zeros, head coach Dave Aranda put his head down, walked to midfield and shook hands with UCF head coach Gus Malzahn as if there had never been a doubt.

Baylor (2-3, 1-1 Big 12) rattled off 29 unanswered points in the second half, 26 of which came in the fourth quarter, to produce the highest-scoring fourth quarter in program history. With two benchmark records, Aranda stayed composed, knowing this game could not only save the team’s season, but potentially jump-start it.

“I think that this is something we can start with and run with,” Aranda said. “This has been the team all along. We’ve had to get through a lot of our own stuff and out of our own way to bring what happens on a Tuesday practice to a Saturday game.”

With 8:08 left in the third quarter, Baylor stared down a 35-7 deficit. Despite the rocky start that has not been unfamiliar to the team this season, the Bears kept chipping away to rally back into the game.

The green and gold’s 28-point comeback on Saturday marked Baylor’s largest comeback since 2014, when a 21-point rally in a shoot-out against TCU gave the Bears a 61-58 win.

“I thought that the team was playing for each other. I thought the team believed,” Aranda said. “They have to let go of that anxiety and just play. I thought coming off of halftime, there was none of that. They knew that they could move it. They knew that they could stop them. It was just a matter of doing it. There was a chip on their shoulder coming out of halftime, and it was cool to see.”

With the return of redshirt junior quarterback Blake Shapen, the Bears gained an extra level of belief and leadership under center.

“I believed before we played this game. I believe in all our coaches. I believe in all my teammates. I never stopped believing,” Shapen said. “Everybody was doubting us. We used that as fuel this game, and came out with a W.”

Taking gruesome hits, Shapen hobbled back to the sideline each time and jumped back in the huddle, no matter if it was offense or defense. Leading the attack to convert on five of seven opportunities in the red zone showed Aranda just why he’s been the starter all along.

“His presence just gave a bunch of juice to the team,” Aranda said. “It means so much for him. I think some of the issues the team has kind of been going through, Blake went through last year. And so here we are, kind of going through the same thing. And the guy that can lead us that kind of knows the way out or through, rather, wasn’t there.

“So he knew coming into it that all of it would be on his shoulders, and certainly none of us would tell him that, but he knew that that’s what the perception would be.”

While history has already been written, Baylor fans can look back on a moment when ESPN analytics credited UCF with a 99.9% chance to take its first Big 12 conference game. But instead, the Bears found vengeance for the 2014 Tostitos Fiesta Bowl.

Baylor will be back in action on Saturday night for a battle against Big 12 foe Texas Tech. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. at McLane Stadium.