Baylor Caps Historic Season with Sugar Bowl Victory

Baylor Bear football helmet. | Image from Baylor

The No. 7 Baylor Bears completed one of the greatest seasons in school history with a 21-7 victory over No. 8 Mississippi in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. A dominant defensive performance and a powerful running game led the Bears to their first Sugar Bowl win since 1957.

Baylor had a Sugar Bowl record 10 sacks en route to the victory. The Bears also intercepted Mississippi quarterbacks three times. Baylor limited Ole Miss to 322 total yards, well below its average of 506.7 this season. Linebacker Terrel Bernard was all over the field, finishing with 17 tackles and adding two of Baylor’s sacks. Bernard was named the game’s most valuable player for his performance.

“It feels amazing,” Bernard said postgame. “We had a lot of talks in the offseason about what we could be and what this team could do. And we talked a lot about leaving a legacy. We’re walking out of here as one of the best Baylor teams ever.”

Abram Smith carried the Baylor offense with 172 rushing yards. Overall, the team rushed for 279 yards behind Smith, who set a record for most rushing yards in a season with 1,601 yards.

“All the credit goes to the men upfront,” Smith said postgame. “Without them, I can’t really do anything.

Quarterback Gerry Bohannon was making his first start for the Bears since suffering a hamstring injury in a win against Kansas State in November and completed just 7-of-17 passing attempts, with one touchdown and one interception.

The two teams entered the fourth quarter tied at 7, but Baylor scored 14 unanswered points to pull away for the win. First, freshman Monaray Baldwin took a handoff and ran 48 yards for a touchdown. Baldwin had touched the ball just five times all season, entering the Sugar Bowl.

Then, following the second interception of the night by JT Woods, Bohannon found Tyquan Thornton for a 2-yard touchdown pass.

Mississippi (10-3) was hindered offensively by an injury to starting quarterback Matt Corral in the first quarter. Corral is projected as a first-round pick in the next NFL Draft and had been Mississippi’s best player all season. Corral suffered the injury after completing just 2-of-6 pass attempts for ten yards with an interception.

The backup was freshman Luke Altmyer, who finished 15-of-29 for 174 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. His first interception was a tipped pass that went to Baylor’s Al Walcott, who returned the pass 96-yards for a touchdown in the second quarter for the game’s opening score. The return was the second-longest play in Sugar Bowl history.

With the Sugar Bowl victory, Baylor (12-2) set a school record for most wins in a single season, with five of the wins coming against ranked opponents. Coupled with the Big 12 conference championship win over Oklahoma State, Baylor has made significant progress under second-year coach Dave Aranda. Last season the Bears finished 2-7 in Aranda’s first year in charge.

“This was a great team win,” Aranda said. “We’ve had some team wins throughout the year, and [I’m] so appreciative of the team. I’m a better person for it. So, I’m proud, man. I’m a little saddened because I know that this part is over, but I’m humbled and appreciative.”

Baylor will lose 14 seniors from this historic team, including Abram Smith and the Big 12’s Defensive Player of the Year Jalen Pitre.

“Being selfless, trusting each other, being a team, sharing one belief,” Aranda said on the field after the game, “you saw a great team tonight. I’m going to miss a lot of guys who have been a part of this special group.”

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