By Wendell Barnhouse | firstname.lastname@example.org
WACO, Texas - Growth can be measured in many ways. Mom and dad can track height with marks on a door way. Weight can be scaled. Personal, spiritual growth can happen but is difficult to guage.
So how about the growth of a college football program and a team? Wins and losses and championships can be handy tools. But sometimes a victory can be more than just another notch in the standings.
Baylor lost its last four games in 2010, including a lopsided bowl loss. One of its six losses was a 45-10 smack down at TCU, a team that went on to a 13-0 season and a Rose Bowl victory over Wisconsin. The Bears opened the 2011 season Friday night before a 14th-ranked Horned Frogs team and an ESPN audience.
For the first time since 2004, Baylor has defeated a ranked team. The Bears let a 24-point fourth quarter lead slip away before driving for the game-winning field goal and a 50-48 triumph.
TCU, like Baylor a former member of the Southwest Conference, had won 25 consecutive regular-season games and 11 consecutive road games. The Frogs' inexperienced secondary was toasted by Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III, who had a career-high five touchdown passes in a game where he completed 21 of 27 for 359 yards.
"He's our leader and it's an honor to be on the same team with him," senior linebacker Elliott Coffey said. "When we were behind, I knew he would make sure we won."
Griffin's fifth TD pass, a 42-yard strike to Terrance Williams, gave Baylor a 47-23 lead with 6:10 remaining in the third quarter. TCU gave up 35 points in a game once last season. With senior Terrance Ganaway running for 120 yards, the Bears' offense was electric (564 yards, 8.7 yards per play).
Under new defensive coordinator Phil Bennett, Baylor's defense gave up 466 yards. But it was victimized by horrendous special team play - the Frogs had 287 yards in kickoff and punt returns. But the Bears' defense twice forced TCU to attempt field goals that were missed and it came up with the game-clinching interception by Mike Hicks.
"People might say it was ugly but a win's a win," Coffey said. "We did some things on defense that shows us where we can get better. We were bend but don't break tonight."
TCU capped its 25-point fourth quarter rally with a 27-yard field goal by Ross Evans with 4:27 remaining. That scoring drive was set up when Griffin was scrambling but was hit from behind and fumbled. The Frogs recovered at the Baylor 39.
"I was pretty down for about three to four minutes after that," Griffin said. "I was in a hole. But the defense told me they were gonna hold TCU to a field goal and then we were gonna drive and score."
That prediction looked impossible. Baylor's three fourth quarter possessions had produced 16 yards and a turnover. Starting at its 20, Baylor faced a third-and-10 after two incompletions.
The Bears' opening drive had been capped by a gadget play. Griffin hit Kendall Wright with a lateral pass and Wright had connected with a wide open Terrance Williams for a 40-yard touchdown. Faced with a make-or-break play, Baylor coach Art Briles rolled the dice.
"We had zero momentum, the other team's fans are making noise," Briles said. "We had that play in a series earlier in the game but we didn't get to it."
"That play" was another lateral pass to Wright. But this time Griffin ran a pattern up the middle of the field. Wright threw into a crowd and Griffin made the catch for a first down.
"I knew I was about to get hit real hard," Griffin said. "The safety was watching me the whole time and he unloaded. Kendall made a great throw. I got the wind knocked out and I couldn't talk; Gannaway had to call the next two plays."
Baylor's drive reached the TCU 20 and the player nicknamed "Stork" - sophomore kicker Aaron Jones delivered a 37-yard field goal to give the Bears the lead.
"That was a classic game. We got it done when we had to get it done," Briles said. "Winning means we're doing what we're supposed to do. This better not be the highlight of the season."
It could have been a lowlight. Losing a game with a 24-point lead going into the fourth quarter would have been devastating on several levels. Instead, it was a field-rushing celebration of a historic victory.