By Michael Haag | Sports Editor, Braden Murray | LTVN Sports Reporter
Like a kid swinging at a piñata, Baylor football was one accurate blow away from busting its seven-game home losing streak to FBS opponents on Saturday.
Houston topped the Bears 25-24 in an overtime thriller that saw Baylor have to rally back from a scoreless first half. The Cougars tied the game at 24 points apiece before converting on a game-winning two-point conversion.
FINAL: Houston 25, Baylor 24
Cougars win in OT on a 2-point conversion rush by Donovan Smith. Bears’ losing streak to FBS foes increases to eight games. pic.twitter.com/21pYGiy3zL
— Michael Haag (@MichaelHaag_) November 4, 2023
Houston head coach Dana Holgorsen said there was no hesitation on the play call, and the Cougars left the old Southwest Conference matchup with their second Big 12 win ever and their first road game win of 2023.
The Bears, on the other hand, fell to 1-6 at home — six being the most home losses among FBS teams — and they still haven’t beaten an FBS opponent at home since Oct. 22, 2022. Baylor’s 7-0 halftime deficit marked the first time it failed to score in the first half since a 24-14 loss at Oklahoma State in 2021. The Bears also became the first team this season to be scoreless through the first two quarters against Houston.
Braden Murray captured Baylor’s loss from the sidelines for LTVN
“I thought offensively, we got better toward the end of the game,” head coach Dave Aranda said. “And we really needed some production in the beginning. … It’s disappointing to not have that with the emphasis and the focus on it.”
After trailing by three points entering the fourth quarter, the Bears (3-6, 2-4 Big 12) leveled things with a 27-yard field goal with 8:18 to play. The Cougars (4-5, 2-4 Big 12) responded with a 24-yard TD five plays later, making it a 17-10 game with under six minutes to play.
Redshirt junior quarterback Blake Shapen threw an interception on the first play of Baylor’s next drive, but Houston missed a 44-yard field goal six plays later, giving the Bears another chance. Faced with a 4th-and-17 on Baylor’s own 33-yard line, Shapen scrambled for a 27-yard gain to keep hopes alive.
Shapen connected with freshman tight end Hawkins Polley for a 2-yard TD on the 11th play of the drive. The strike tied the game at 17-17 with 29 seconds remaining, which sent the game to overtime.
The Cougars won the toss and elected to play defense first, and the Bears wasted no time. They gained 23 yards on the first play of the drive, and freshman running back Dawson Pendergrass punched it home from one yard out to give Baylor a 24-17 lead.
Redshirt sophomore wide receiver Josh Cameron said there was palpable energy among the team and fans after the score.
“As a collective, you could feel on the sidelines, you could feel really in the whole stadium, you could feel everyone being like, ‘Yeah, this is all the momentum on our side,’” Cameron said.
Houston was hit with a personal foul that put the ball on the Bears’ 40-yard line, rather than the standard 25 for overtime possessions. The Cougars shrugged off the setback though, as junior quarterback Donovan Smith raced into the end zone for a 7-yard rushing TD.
Houston’s offense stayed on the field for the two-point conversion, and Smith darted forward for the conversion, silencing the McLane Stadium crowd in the process.
Aranda said the locker room was crushed after the loss and that his squad needs to get off to better starts — a common theme from this season. Baylor failed to score points on its opening drive of the game for the seventh-straight week, and the Bears have now been outscored 142-65 in first halves against FBS opponents this season.
“We have to be able to turn the corner with this,” Aranda said. “I think the execution when it matters most is where we’re at — whether it’s that last drive, whether it’s early in the game and it’s a to-go down, whatever it is. I think those are areas right now that are holding us back, and we have to push through those.”
Baylor still has a path to bowl eligibility, but it has to win the rest of the way. The Bears play at Kansas State for a 2 p.m. contest next Saturday at Bill Snyder Family Football Stadium in Manhattan, Kan. The game will be streamed on Big 12 Now on ESPN+.
Redshirt junior linebacker Brooks Miller said the team still has confidence in its ability to win the last three games and make a bowl game. Baylor has appeared in a bowl game in 11 of the last 13 seasons, including the last two years.
“All these three games are going to be up to us,” Miller said. “We have to come out there with the intent and the energy. If we lose the energy, there’s no point in being there. So we just need to come out there and do our thing.”