By Jerry Hill
Baylor Bear Foundation
Freshman quarterback Charlie Brewer, redshirting through the first four games, nearly led the biggest comeback in the history of Baylor football Saturday night at McLane Stadium.
With the Bears trailing 23rd-ranked West Virginia by 25 points when Brewer checked in for the last play of the third quarter, the freshman from Austin threw for 109 yards and two touchdowns, added 48 yards rushing on 10 carries and led the Bears to 23 unanswered points.
But, with a chance to tie it with a two-point conversion after a nine-yard TD pass to fellow freshman Trestan Ebner with 17 seconds left, Brewer was sacked by blitzing linebacker Xavier Preston as the Bears (0-7, 0-4) dropped a 38-36 heartbreaker before a Homecoming crowd of 45,389.
"Everybody wants to win, it's not OK to come up short like that," said Brewer, who had thrown just seven passes before hitting 8-of-13 for 109 yards, all in the fourth quarter. "We just kind of all got together and said, `Let's come back.' It starts with the offensive line, they battled all night. They really put us in the position where we were."
Brewer had a run-pass option on the conversion try and was looking to throw back to tight end Jordan Feuerbacher in the backside corner when he was hit by Preston.
"That was a team that was trying to go win," coach Matt Rhule said. "We put the ball in the hands of Charlie on the two-point conversion, and thinking he could run it. . . . We had four options on that play, and their kid just made a play."
When Rhule turned to Brewer late, part of his thinking was that sophomore starter Zach Smith had already been sacked five times and was battling a stomach flu. Smith was 16-of-27 for 261 yards, hooking up with freshman Gavin Holmes on a 56-yarder that set up the Bears' first touchdown.
"Zach doesn't feel well to begin with," Rhule said, "so we just figured, why continue to let him take a beating? Let's let Charlie get in there and have some meaningful snaps like he did last week (against Oklahoma State). I think we saw what Charlie brings to the table and the job he did. Ended up one play from doing it."
The thought process changed rather quickly from getting the freshman quarterback "meaningful snaps" to "let's go win this thing."
Brewer hit Ebner out of the backfield for a 52-yard pass play down the right sideline, giving the Bears at least a glimmer of hope at 38-20.
"He was good enough to be patient, let the play develop and found me open," said Ebner, who had a career game with 163 yards combined rushing and receiving and three touchdowns on just eight touches.
Before Saturday's game, Ebner had 41 yards and one touchdown on 10 carries and four catches for 23 yards.
"I just knew it was a matter of time," Brewer said. "He's an incredible athlete, he's worked really hard, so I'm not surprised that he did that tonight."
On the TD pass, Ebner was Brewer's second read, but "I just saw him slip up the sideline and I got him the ball, and he did the rest."
Another freshman came up with a big play when walk-on kicker Jay Sedwick had an onside kick and tipped it up himself, with Chance Waz recovering for the Bears at the Mountaineers' 49.
"You think about Jay, I think the last time he was on this field he was (running) on the Baylor Line," Rhule said. "He's done that once in practice, and really wasn't there. I looked at (seniors Taylor Young and Taion Sells) and said, `Y'all want to do it?' And they said, `Yeah, we'll find a way to get it.' It was a tremendous effort by Jay."
Two plays later, Ebner sprinted into the end zone again, this time on a 40-yard run. All of a sudden, it was a 38-27 game with 13:50 still to play.
Ebner, who finished with a team-best 54 yards rushing on just three carries, gave all the credit to the offensive line.
"They opened it up, they knocked the defense back, and it popped," he said.
Like Brewer, Ebner had remained patient, waiting for his chance.
"Just opportunities, being patient and letting it come to me," he said. "We have running backs. Like next week might not be my week, but (JaMycal Hasty, Terence Williams or John Lovett) could go off for a big game. It's just, whoever's hot, keep them rolling."
Somewhat lost in Baylor's heroic comeback was the fact that the defense held the Mountaineers to zero fourth-quarter points and 11 yards on nine plays.
"They didn't have the ball a ton, but we got the key stops when we needed them," Rhule said. "And really, we got off the field on third down when we needed them. That was the biggest key, you have to get off the field on third down if you want to have a chance. We were able to do that."
The Bears made it a one-possession game on a 23-yard field goal by Connor Martin, capping off a 13-play, 69-yard drive. And when the defense came up with another stop, Brewer provided some more late-game magic.
He converted one first down with a sideline dive, picked up another on a fourth-down pass to Denzel Mims and finished it off with the nine-yard TD pass to Ebner.
In the end, though, the Bears came up two points short.
"I'm proud of our team the way they fought back in the fourth quarter . . . and had a chance to tie the game up with the two-point conversion there at the end," Rhule said. "Was proud of their effort, proud of their ability to rally. . . . A lot of young guys stepped up, a lot of new guys stepped up. And for that, I'm proud of them. We'll continue to try to work with them."
Baylor will face Texas (3-4, 2-2) at 11 a.m. next Saturday, Oct. 28, at McLane Stadium. The Longhorns lost to 10th-ranked Oklahoma State, 13-10, in overtime.