Baylor had played poorly on the road all season, and was locked in another tight tussle with red-hot Kansas State, when quarterback Gerry Bohanon grabbed his right hamstring heading out of bounds in the first half Saturday night.
Nothing to worry about.
Just call on a redshirt freshman who’d thrown three career passes.
Blake Shapen completed 16 of 21 passes for 137 yards to steady the Bears on offense, and their defense smothered Kansas State, helping secure a 20-10 victory that kept their Big 12 title hopes alive.
“Every situation Blake’s been put in going back to the spring, fall, throughout our practices when he rotates through — he’s risen to every occasion,” Baylor coach Dave Aranda said. “There’s some gunslinger in him. I think you saw that.”
Shapen got some help from Trestan Ebner, who ran for 86 yards and a touchdown, and Tyquan Thornton, who had five catches for 75 yards, as the Bears (9-2, 6-2 Big 12) won their fourth straight over Kansas State.
“We knew this was going to be a really tough test coming into Manhattan, a big crowd, on the road, and obviously we’ve had some trouble in the past on the road,” Baylor wide receiver Drew Estrada said. “All week we knew it would be a battle.”
That said, the Bears got plenty of gifts. The Wildcats (7-4, 4-4) muffed a punt that led to the game’s first points, and Chris Tennant missed a 39-yard field goal that would have made it a one-possession game with 10 minutes to go.
Sixth-year senior Skylar Thompson was just 15 of 29 for 158 yards before leaving with an injury in the fourth quarter of his final home game. Deuce Vaughn had 128 yards rushing for the Wildcats, but most of it came on a 65-yard TD run.
“They had really good plans on both sides of the ball,” Wildcats coach Chris Klieman said. “They’re a physical team, they play really hard. We got behind early on the miscue; we just couldn’t get out of that hole.”
The game was billed as a matchup of run-oriented teams that don’t mind playing defense, and it took a special teams blunder — Phillip Brooks fumbling a punt — for anybody to reach the end zone. The miscue by Kansas State gave the Bears a short field, and Ebner scored a few plays later to stake them to a 7-0 lead in the first quarter.
It stayed that way until late in the second, when Baylor converted a pair of third downs and a fourth during a 74-yard march that took 15 plays and gobbled up nearly 7 1/2 minutes. Bohanon did most of the work with his arm, so it was fitting that he capped the drive with a short toss to Drake Dabney for a 14-0 lead.
The Wildcats answered quickly when Vaughn shook loose for a 65-yard touchdown run. It came after the Bears had forced fourth-and-5 and Kansas State was punting and an offsides call on Byron Hanspard Jr. provided a free first down.
Baylor managed to add a field goal before halftime, but it came at a cost: Bohanon was scrambling out of bounds when he clutched his right hamstring. He pounded the ground with his left fist and it was clear he was done for the game.
Despite throwing just three passes all season, Bohanon’s understudy was ready to go.
After the Wildcats kicked a field goal to get within 17-10 in the third quarter, Shapen led the Bears on an 82-yard drive that included a crucial third-down throw to Ebner for a first down. Isaiah Hankins capped it with another field goal to make it a two-possession game with 13 1/2 minutes left, and the Bears held on the rest of the way.
“I’m proud of our team. I’m proud of our players. This has been an obstacle,” Aranda said. “To come out and have a week of really strong decisions and choices, to do hard things, to do simple better, to have a mindset of getting ready for a fight and focusing on things you can control daily — I think all that went into tonight.”
Baylor’s defense showed up after holding Oklahoma to season lows in just about every meaningful statistical category in a 27-14 victory last week. The Bears held the Wildcats to 4 of 13 on third downs and 263 yards of total offense.
Kansas State struggled early this season when Thompson was hurt. And while the veteran played poorly under heavy pressure against Baylor, the Wildcats have proved to be better with him on the field. Jaren Lewis replaced him with a few minutes left Saturday night and threw an interception on his first pass.
The Wildcats visit Texas on Friday. Baylor welcomes Texas Tech to McLane Stadium on Saturday.