Baylor Football: Big 12 Champions
An unlikely group of misfits with an unflappable head coach guide Baylor to their first Big 12 title since 2014
There was mass confusion long before the final fourth and goal play of the Big 12 championship game between No. 5 Oklahoma State and No. 9 Baylor.
During substitutions, the play clock was reset for the Cowboys who were down 21-16 and needed a touchdown to win the game. All the while, Bear defenders were screaming at the sideline, each other and making dramatic hand gestures before Terrel Bernard finally called a timeout.
The problem was that Baylor did not have a timeout, so both teams were rushed back onto the field, the play clock was reset once more and the ball was snapped, handed off and bounced outside.
What transpired in the next six seconds will live in college football folk lore for all time.
Jairon McVea shuffled right and raced down Cowboy running back Desmond Jackson. As both neared the boundary, Jackson turned upfield, transitioned the ball to both hand and dove for the pylon as McVea lunged for his jersey to make the tackle.
Jackson landed an inch short of the goal line, out of bounds right next to the pylon. The ref signaled short, the Bears went crazy and the noise shifted from the 80 percent in Orange to the small contingent of green and gold who were conveniently sitting right next to that pylon.
It was the second time in less than 11 minutes that Jackson would land literally inches away from the goal line. Baylor’s defense displayed a tenacious resilience each time the Pokes were knocking on the doorstep, almost welcoming the opportunity and daring the Cowboys to break the plain.
We knew this was going to be the championship game of the day going in and that it was going to be a defensive stalemate. That was an understatement as there were four interceptions; five fumbles; two missed field goals (one blocked); two turnover on downs; and not one of the game’s four touchdown drives were longer than 47 yards.
Baylor won on the final goal line stand, but even more improbable was that Oklahoma State ran 14 plays inside the Baylor 10-yard line across five drives, but only gained a grand total of five yards (0.35 yards/play). Excluding the touchdown drive, the Cowboys ran 13 plays and only gained one measly yard (2.76 inches/play)!
Three pass interference penalties helped position the Cowboys inside the 10, however, Baylor forced three field goals and a turnover on downs while OSU only managed one touchdown. Here were the drives:
8:48, Q1: A 26-yard completion sets Oklahoma State up at the 8-yard line. Jackson and Dominic Richardson each run for a yard before an incomplete pass. Cowboys kick a 23-yard field goal.
3:51, Q2: Al Walcott’s pass interference puts Pokes at the 6-yard line. Sanders throws three straight incompletions, and Cowboys kick a 23-yard field goal.
7:13, Q3: Al Walcott’s pass interference puts Cowboys at the 4-yard line. Richardson scores on the ensuing play.
10:39, Q4: Sanders find Jackson for a 16-yard pass that puts Oklahoma State at the half-yard line. Jackson is stuffed two straight times before fumbling the exchange between him and Sanders on third and goal. Pokes kick a 20-yard field goal.
1:27, Q4: Mark Milton’s pass interference in the end zone puts Oklahoma State at the 2-yard line. Jackson rushes for a yard on first and goal, is stuffed on second and goal, Sanders throws an incompletion on third and goal, and Jackson is denied inches short on fourth and goal.
That is a rough day for Oklahoma State’s Dezmon Jackson, who was essentially denied the promise land eight times.
And when the Bears were not busy stuffing Jackson and the Cowboys inside the 10, they were picking off All-Big 12 QB Spencer Sanders four times. JT Woods, Matt Jones, Brayden Utley and McVea all hand interceptions to set up the Bears’ offense.
Baylor would capitalize immediately with two touchdowns thanks to backup Blake Shapen navigating the short field. The redshirt freshman was starting his second game ever and completed his first 17 passes of the afternoon—three were caught in the end zone.
Though the Baylor offense and Shapen sputtered in the second half as the team only gained 36 total yards on offense and Shapen—despite completing 6-of-7 passes after halftime— came back down to Earth due to defensive adjustments and injury. Wildly, his only incompletion of the second half was his throw away on the fourth and one play at Baylor’s own 36-yard line.
That finally jump started the Cowboys who quickly scored a touchdown. Oklahoma State was otherwise stalled out the entire game and the second half mistakes from the Bears breathed life into Coach Mike Gundy’s team.
The second mistake for Baylor was not capitalizing on their final interception via a missed field goal. And when the defense stopped Oklahoma State again, Trestan Ebner—the two straight Big 12 special teams player of the year— muffed the ensuing punt at his own 30-yard line.
Still, the Bears’ goal line stand forced a field goal. Then the defense forced the Cowboys to their fourth three and out of the game with just under four minutes remaining.
So if you are keeping track, Baylor forced Oklahoma State to kick three field goals, go three and out four times and throw four interceptions. None was more important than what they did on the last Cowboy drive.
An Issac Power 61-yard punt pinned the Pokes at their own 10 with 3:14 to play. Suddenly Sanders and the Cowboys, who did not do anything all day, operated like a well-oiled offensive machine. A Playoff caliber juggernaut that picked up 10 yards per play and were set up at the two-yard line after a pass interference penalty in the end zone on the thirteenth play.
Ultimately, it was a drive that spanned 17 plays, took almost three minutes and went 89 yards and 35 inches. An inch further and it would have been a 90-yard, game-winning, playoff-clinching drive for the most iconic Oklahoma State moment since Barry Sanders won the Heisman Trophy.
Instead McVea, a sixth-year senior and former walk-on, made a game-saving, championship-winning tackle in a play that will run on a loop forever. It is the greatest play in Baylor history and most iconic since Robert Griffin III’s legendary Heisman moment to beat Oklahoma in 2011.
As we near Christmas time, it seems only fitting that Baylor won the title when nobody expected them to. The Bears were picked to finish eighth in the preseason conference polls; their coach, Dave Aranda, was ranked the worst coach in the Big 12; and they were coming off of a miserable 2-7 season in 2020.
Waco served as an island of misfit toys. Where young men were forgotten and overlooked as functional football players. Their characteristics were too abstract and obtuse to ever amount to anything great, right? Well, they came together and formed a team that was able to get the most out of their unique talents. Here were some of the more notable ‘misfits’:
Dave Aranda: A national championship defensive coordinator turned head coach with a quirky personality who has reiterated his intent to stay in Waco.
Gerry Bohanon: A starting quarterback who once played two ways as QB and linebacker in high school and then waited three years on the bench to start.
Blake Shapen: A backup quarterback who’s best sport is actually baseball and was the No. 4 HS player in Louisiana.
Abram Smith: A linebacker turned running back who led the Bears in rushing this season with 1,429 yards—second all time in program history.
Drew Estrada: An Ivy League wide receiver transfer who had 353 receiving yards on 28 catches this season.
Dillon Doyle: A Big Ten linebacker transfer who doubled as an offensive weapon in goal to go situations who had over 80 tackles and two touchdowns.
Siaki Ika: An LSU transfer who smiled at the sky cam and did jigs after his sacks as well as on the sideline.
Jarion McVea: Former walk-on, turned star defensive player in his sixth season with 25 tackles, two picks and the McPlay.
Jalen Pitre: The only commit who stayed despite the fallout from the scandal in 2016 and became the Big 12 Defensive POY with 70 tackles, 2.5 sacks, three fumble recoveries and two interceptions.
The list goes on and on, but the picture should be clear. For many of the seniors it was the end to a long a gruesome journey that commenced in the aftermath of scandal, went through two coaching changes, a one-win season, the agony of losing in overtime of the Big 12 title game, a two-win season, and the Covid-19 pandemic before finally winning the conference crown.
The velveteen Bears are real, are champions, and would no doubt have it any other way.
Baylor will play Ole Miss in the Sugar Bowl on New Years.