By Jerry Hill
Baylor Bear Foundation
FORT WORTH, Texas - Without even a moment of hesitation, Baylor sophomore receiver Blake Lynch confidently proclaimed, "We'll be in a bowl game next year."
In what amounted to the Bears' bowl game in a disappointing 1-11 season, they jumped out to a 9-0 lead on 10th-ranked TCU in the first 94 seconds, trailed by just two at the break and were still within a single score until the last two minutes of the third quarter of Friday's season finale at Amon G. Carter Stadium.
Already bowl-eligible for a fourth consecutive year, TCU (10-2, 7-2) punched its ticket for next week's Big 12 Championship game and a rematch with No. 3 Oklahoma by scoring 17 unanswered points in an eight-minute stretch and defeating Baylor, 45-22, before a crowd of 43,015.
"It's obviously a disappointing end to a disappointing year," first-year head coach Matt Rhule said. "As in many games, we proved for long stretches of the game we could hang in there against a team of that caliber. A mistake here, a mistake there, a play here, a play there, and the game gets away from us."
Senior quarterback Kenny Hill threw for 325 yards and three touchdowns and also scored on a three-yard TD run. But, for most of the sun-splashed afternoon, Baylor freshman Charlie Brewer was every bit as good as the Horned Frogs' veteran signal-caller.
Making his fourth consecutive start, Brewer was 19-of-29 for 301 yards and two touchdowns and came up six yards shy of the end zone on a 51-yard third-quarter run that would have been the first second-half touchdown given up by TCU's defense since a 31-24 win over West Virginia on Oct. 7.
"Charlie's numbers were special considering the duress he was under," Rhule said, referring to TCU's eight sacks on the day, including six of Brewer.
It wasn't one of those six sacks, though, that finally knocked Brewer out of the game late in the third quarter. Rolling to his left, he tried to throw back across his body to receiver Jared Atkinson and took a big hit, suffering what's believed to be a dislocated shoulder.
"Hopefully, he'll be OK as we move forward," Rhule said of the freshman quarterback, who threw for at least 300 yards and two or more touchdowns in three of his four starts.
With freshman left guard Xavier Newman out with an infection, Baylor went with a reshuffled offensive line that had Patrick Lawrence moving from right tackle to left guard and Josh Malin making his first start at right tackle. Then late in the game, when senior Mo Porter couldn't go, the Bears were forced to use Tyrae Simmons and Daniel Russell at left guard.
TCU defensive end Mat Boesen had a single-game school record with 5.5 sacks.
"There's no one else in college football today that had four linemen playing in a different position than they have all year," Rhule said.
"When we're sitting here next year, we can't give up six sacks and hope to win a game. We can't not force a turnover and hope to win the game. So, there's light at the end of the tunnel. This is one of the hardest things many of those players have been through. But, it's over now, and it's time to begin the climb and come back next year."
Out for the last two weeks and limited since a breakout game against West Virginia over a month ago, Ebner scored on a 58-yard catch and run in the second quarter and finished with 89 yards on a career-high six receptions and added 15 yards on six carries.
"I really hated missing those last two games, but I figured it's the last game of the season, so just give it my all until I can't walk again," said Ebner, who's been bothered by a quad injury. "We're not really satisfied, because we didn't put up enough points to win, but I think this is something we can capitalize on going into the offseason."
On his touchdown, Ebner caught a check-down pass from Brewer in the flat and sprinted down the far sidelines for his third TD reception of the season.
"When I caught it, I kind of turned and stopped a little bit, and I didn't see anyone," he said. "I was like, `Just don't get caught from behind.' . . . I heard I ran pretty fast. I don't know, I haven't seen it yet. I just saw grass and went."
After TCU had scored 21 unanswered points, Ebner's touchdown was part of a 10-0 run by the Bears in the last 5 ½ minutes of the first half to close the deficit to 21-19 on Connor Martin's career-long 48-yard field goal.
Lynch, a two-way threat who started two games at cornerback and three at receiver this season, said the Bears have proven all year that they can come back.
"I learned we're not frontrunners," he said. "We can be behind, and we're still going to fight and push during the game. I think in the future, it will help us a lot. A lot of teams are frontrunners. You get out early on them and they'll quit. That's not us."
Baylor was in relatively unchartered territory early in this one, taking a surprising 9-0 lead and throwing a scare into the TCU faithful.
The first points came just 50 seconds into the game when linebacker Lenoy Jones Jr. sacked Hill and forced a fumble in the end zone. Offensive tackle Lucas Niang recovered the loose ball, but he was tackled by Bravvion Roy for Baylor's first safety since Sept. 16, 2006 at Washington State.
"The team that played Liberty was way different than the team that played today, and that's great to see," said junior defensive tackle Ira Lewis, who had two of the Bears' 12 tackles for losses. "As long as we keep improving and take that momentum into next season, we'll be that much better."
On Baylor's second play from scrimmage, Lynch went the distance for 54 yards on a pass from Brewer, extending the lead to 9-0 with 13:26 still left in the first quarter. Lynch finished with four catches for 110 yards, becoming the fifth different player to post a 100-yard receiving day.
"Against a defense that's giving up 15 points a game, I thought (Lynch and Ebner) gave us an explosive factor," Rhule said. "Ebner came in and gave Charlie someone out of the backfield, and he was able to do so much with the football. With Trestan, the sky is the limit with what he can do.
"Blake, for a guy who played offense and defense and went back to offense, that long touchdown and a couple of the bubbles he did, he was a difference-maker out there on the perimeter. I thought they were a much-needed shot in the arm."
And a much-needed shot in the arm heading into the offseason.
Like Lynch, Rhule is confident about the Bears' chances of bouncing back, saying, "We're going to a bowl game next year. If we don't, I'll be disappointed."