ARLINGTON, Texas — What did Baylor’s Jairon McVea see as the Oklahoma State Cowboys lined up for fourth and goal at the Bears’ 1-yard line with 24 seconds left and the Big 12 Championship on the line?
“As far as what I saw, I saw the ball and I said, ‘I have to run this down,’” McVea said after Baylor’s 21-16 victory over Oklahoma State on Saturday at AT&T Stadium.
And did he know he had done it?
“Not really, but I saw the ref signal not a touchdown and after that I was pretty happy.”
McVea, a sixth-year senior safety, walked onto the program and he didn’t get a scholarship until former head coach Matt Rhule put him on scholarship in the spring of 2019. To the outside world, he wasn’t a known name — until Saturday.
To his coaches and teammates he may be the hardest-working player on the entire team. Baylor head coach Dave Aranda said he wasn’t surprised it was McVea making the play. McVea is the same guy who goes full-speed during a Monday practice in shells and helmets when Aranda and the staff have to struggle to get most of the team to NOT treat that practice like a walkthrough.
“We all have people like that,” Aranda said. “He’s going to do it right, every time, with a smile on his face. Sometimes you overlook people like that. You see that ball rolling out and you seem him on the edge and you feel good about it.”
McVea gave Aranda and the Bears (11-2) something to feel great about as they won the Big 12 Championship game for the first time.
Leading up to McVea’s game-saving play, the Bears put together their third goal-line stand of the game.
Oklahoma State (11-2) took over at their own 10-yard line with 3:23 left and down 21-16. Quarterback Spencer Sanders and the Cowboys found a way to navigate nearly the entire field, without any timeouts, to get to the Bears’ 2-yard line inside of a minute. It looked almost certain the Cowboys would score, but they couldn’t settle for a field goal, as they had on the Bears’ two previous goal-line stands.
On first down, Baylor’s JT Woods and Dillon Doyle held OSU running back Dezmon Jackson to a yard. On second down, Jalen Pitre stuffed Jackson for no gain. Since neither team had a time out, the Cowboys weren’t in a hurry. OSU wanted to leave as little time as possible for Baylor to answer, assuming the Cowboys scored.
“We weren’t going to give up. We weren’t going to let them walk in,” Baylor linebacker Terrel Bernard said.
Sanders ran a bootleg pass to Jaden Bray on third down, but Pitre broke that up too.
The Cowboys had no choice but to go for it this time.
So it came down to fourth down. And it came down to McVea.
Sanders handed off to Jackson, who swept to the left side. There was clean, open field and McVea was the only thing keeping Jackson from winning the game. It was a foot race. Jackson took a wide berth to the pylon. McVea caught up to him and pushed him out of bounds about a quarter-yard short of the pylon. It was just … enough.
Bernard had a view of what happened from the end zone, as he was unable to make a play because of the design of the play Oklahoma State called.
“We figured they would run, so we ran a run blitz and things got clogged up in the middle,” Bernard said. “I saw (Jackson) sprint out toward the sideline and saw Jairon run him and down, and he made plays all day. He ran him down at the half-yard line. It was a crazy way to end the game”
Insanity ensued, especially after quarterback Blake Shapen lunged for a yard to run out the clock. Baylor had its first Big 12 Championship since it shared the regular-season title with TCU in 2014.
Baylor needed every last square inch of what it received from its defense, because Oklahoma State’s defense flat shut the Bears down in the final 30 minutes. Shapen completed his first 17 passes of the game — a Big 12 record — and threw three touchdowns to help the Bears build a 21-6 lead. Baylor wasn’t perfect. But the Bears’ defense helped them considerably with three first-half interceptions (they ended up with four in the game).
“There’s no question they’re a very good defense,” Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy said.
Oklahoma State blocked Isaiah Hankins’ 39-yard field goal as time expired at the end of the first half. A made field goal would have given Baylor a 24-6 halftime lead. Instead, it was 21-6. The Bears could have used those points.
Baylor nearly buried itself with a litany of mistakes in the second half, including:
Aranda’s decision to go for it on 4th-and-1 from the Bears’ 36 led to a failed conversion and gave Oklahoma State great field position to score its only touchdown of the game.
The Bears’ offense failed to score a second-half point and had 36 yards in total offense.
The Bears missed a second field goal.
The Bears failed to turn their fourth interception of the game — this one by Brayden Utley — into points.
Abram Smith muffed a punt and lost it, giving the Cowboys great field position early in the fourth quarter.
Fortunately, the Bears’ defense ultimately held the Cowboys to a field goal, thanks to a brilliant goal-line stand with tackles by Pitre, Cole Maxwell and Gabe Hall. And, not to mention, Doyle keeping Jackson out of the end zone on the series before the goal line stand by bringing him down just short of the goal line on a completed pass. That led to the Cowboys cutting the lead to 21-16.
The Bears hung on for dear life down the stretch, as Sanders and the Cowboys navigated what looked destined at one point — a game-winning touchdown drive.
That is, until McVea intervened, the guy who never met anything he couldn’t do full-speed.
You can find Matthew Postins on Twitter @PostinsPostcard.