WACO, Texas — It was a crazy way to win a game, but the Texas Longhorns will take it.
The Longhorns took advantage of 12th-ranked Baylor’s tailspin at quarterback and finished the season with a 23-17 victory over the Bears on Saturday at McLane Stadium.
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Texas built a 20-0 first-half lead, then held off a charge as Baylor scored 17 straight points in the second half to get back into the game.
The Longhorns (5-7, 4-5 in the Big 12) saw their second straight losing season come to an end. But Texas coach Charlie Strong was already looking forward after the game.
“This is a springboard for the spring,” Strong said. “Now we have something that we can build on and we can take into the off-season.”
Baylor (9-3, 6-3) probably would have punched its ticket to the Sugar Bowl with a victory, as the Bears had a Big 12 second-place tiebreaker over TCU and Oklahoma State.
Now Baylor will fall down the bowl pecking order a couple of slots.
The Bears played with a mix-match of wide receivers and running backs at quarterback after starter Chris Johnson left the game with concussion-like symptoms late in the first quarter.
Johnson entered the season as Baylor’s third-string quarterback, but was pressed into action when Seth Russell and Jarrett Stidham suffered season-ending injuries.
The Longhorns limited Baylor to 84 passing yards.
The Bears rushed for 395 yards, led by Johnny Jefferson’s 158 yards on 23 carries.
However, Texas defensive tackle Poona Ford forced and recovered a crucial
fumble by Jefferson on the Bears’ next-to-last possession.
That was Baylor’s fourth turnover, and the Bears didn’t manage any takeaways.
The Bears had one final possession beginning from their own 4-yard-line with 1:24 left. But Jefferson’s Hail Mary pass from the Texas 47 fell incomplete.
“When we had to get the stop that we needed, we were able to do it,” Strong said.
Texas took control early, when quarterback Tyrone Swoopes hit tight end Caleb Bluiett for a 57-yard touchdown pass to put the Longhorns ahead, 7-0, less than four minutes into the game.
The Longhorns added kicker Nick Rose’s 23-yard field goal on its second offensive series before Texas made the play that shaped the rest of the game.
Johnson ran on a second-and-10 play from his own 22 and Longhorns nickel back P.J. Locke came up to hit the Bears quarterback and forced a fumble. Linebacker Anthony Wheeler recovered for Texas at the Baylor 18.
Making matters worse for the Bears, Johnson left the field with help from the training staff.
Swoopes made the fumble recovery count for Texas when he cruised in for a nine-yard touchdown run that put the Longhorns ahead, 17-0, with 1:11 remaining in the first quarter.
Baylor, which didn’t have a backup quarterback listed on its two-deep roster, inserted wide receiver Lynx Hawthorne in the shotgun formation to direct the offense.
Although Baylor hadn’t scored in four possessions with Johnson at quarterback, the Bears struggled even more with Hawthorne throwing passes.
Baylor junior wide receiver Corey Coleman, who announced after the game that he will make himself eligible for the NFL Draft following this season, said the Bears were running an impromptu offense for much of the day.
“It’s really tough,” Coleman said. “Everything we practiced this week with our starting quarterback, and he goes down early, so we’ve got to switch up a lot of stuff on the fly.”
Hawthorne threw two interceptions in his first three passes.
Texas’ first pick of Hawthorne resulted in a benches-clearing melee.
Texas defensive back Duke Thomas intercepted Hawthorne’s pass and Hawthorne brought him down near the Longhorns sideline at the Texas 40.
Some shoving ensued and many members of the Baylor team left the bench and crossed the field to come to the rescue of their fill-in quarterback.
“It started in the pregame,” Strong said. “There was some chirping back and forth, and so you could know it was going to build up. I just didn’t think it was going to get to that stage.
“But we didn’t back down and I didn’t want them to back down. But I didn’t want anyone to do anything where we were silly with the penalties. But we’re not going to back down.”
Texas incurred the only unsportsmanlike penalty from the fracas, as reserve safety Kevin Vacarro was flagged for leaving the Longhorns’ bench.
The Longhorns failed to score after their two interceptions of Hawthorne. But Rose increased Texas’ lead when he booted a 53-yard field goal with 2:01 left in the second quarter.
Rose’s kick upped the Longhorns lead to 20-0 at halftime.