Isaiah Hankins’ four field goals leads Baylor football to 32-29 win at Cincinnati

Redshirt sophomore kicker Isaiah Hankins (98) became the first Bear to connect on four field goals in a game since Connor Martin in 2017. Photo courtesy of Baylor Athletics

By Michael Haag | Sports Editor

Baylor football didn’t need a 28-point second-half rally, but it found a way to win on the road once again in front of a sellout crowd.

Redshirt sophomore kicker Isaiah Hankins accounted for 14 points, and the Bears snuck past Cincinnati 32-29 Saturday afternoon at Nippert Stadium in Cincinnati. The squad is 2-0 on the road this year after a 1-4 start at home.

Hankins made a career high four field goals, including a career-long 54-yarder in the first quarter. His other successful kicks were from 46, 43 and 43 yards. Hankins became the first Baylor kicker to record four made field goals in a game since Connor Martin did it against Oklahoma on Sept. 23, 2017.

The Bearcats had a chance to tie the game or take the lead late in the fourth quarter, but redshirt sophomore safety Corey Gordon Jr. broke up a pass on 4th-and-11 near midfield to seal the Bears’ win.

“It’s a happy locker room,” head coach Dave Aranda said. “The way we finished and was able to close that game out on defense after a couple of series of not playing our best, it was an ugly win. But it was a win nonetheless. It’s always good when you can learn and get better from a win and not a loss.”

Baylor (3-4, 2-2 Big 12) is back in the win column after losing to Texas Tech 39-14 at home on Oct. 7. The Bears entered Saturday’s first-ever matchup with the Bearcats (2-5, 0-4 Big 12) coming off an idle week.

Redshirt junior quarterback Blake Shapen and junior wide receiver Ketron Jackson Jr. found success against Cincinnati’s defense through the air. Shapen completed 25 of 42 passes for 316 yards and one TD, also rushing for a score in the second quarter. Jackson had five catches for 130 yards, a new career high. Saturday marked the first time the Arkansas transfer eclipsed the 100-yard mark at the collegiate level.

Shapen also hasn’t thrown a pick in four starts this season. The right-handed quarterback missed three games in September with an MCL sprain. Yet, Shapen has thrown 145 passes without an interception.

By comparison, former Baylor quarterback Gerry Bohanon threw his first pick after 173 attempts to start the historic 2021 season. That turnover came in the eighth game of the year versus BYU.

Hankins’ career-long boot gave the Bears the edge through the first quarter, but Bearcats redshirt senior quarterback Emory Jones and their offense responded early in the second, making it a 7-3 ballgame. Shapen led a seven-play, 75-yard drive that saw him rush the ball home from three yards out, and Baylor retook the lead — 10-7 just a few minutes into the second quarter.

The Bears padded their advantage seven seconds later, as fifth-year senior outside linebacker Byron Vaughns gave the squad its first special teams TD since the 2022 season opener. Redshirt freshman linebacker Jeremy Evans popped the ball free on a Cincinnati kickoff return, allowing Vaughns to corral it and hit pay dirt.

The TD was Vaughns’ first of his college career.

“God put a ball in my hands and let me run into the end zone,” Vaughns said. “So you don’t get too many of those on defense. I almost went to being a receiver and said ‘forget defense.’”

A 46-yard field goal by Hankins gave Baylor a 29-14 lead with five minutes left in the third quarter, but a 12-play drive saw the Bearcats make a 29-21 contest early in the fourth. The Bears’ next drive milked 7:14 off the clock and ended with another three points by Hankins.

Cincinnati, led by Jones, answered quickly, trimming their deficit to 32-29 with just over five minutes left in the contest. Baylor totaled 17 yards on its next drive and was able to shave 2:44 of time.

But true freshman punter Palmer Williams thumped a 51-yard punt to pin the Bearcats in their own territory. Starting on the Cincinnati 7-yard line, Jones led a 35-yard drive that ended with Gordon’s pass breakup on fourth down, allowing the Bears to go into victory formation.

Gordon said it took all facets of the secondary to come away with that stop.

“This week in practice, we just tried to be big on staying to the details and just doing our job at our 1/11th,” Gordon said. “And I feel like that’s what makes us successful, just playing together.”

Aranda said he was proud of the defense for securing the win after the offense failed to put it away.

“With the game being in the hands of the defense, for them to go out and close it out and do it in a real physical, violent way, is a good sign,” Aranda said. “I think we’re trying, and I think that the kids are believing. We have to be able to execute better, especially in the run department defensively.”

Baylor now returns to Waco to host Iowa State for Homecoming. The Bears will kick things off against the Cyclones at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday following the 8 a.m. parade, and the game will be broadcast on ESPN2. Iowa State was idle this week after blasting Cincinnati, 30-10, in the Queen City last week.

Aranda said Saturday’s win can be a springboard for the team and that it indicates the potential he’s seen all along.

“It shows who we are and who we’ve been the whole time,” Aranda said.