West Virginia Baylor Football

Baylor ‘s Charlie Brewer gets past West Virginia linebacker Al-Rasheed Benton (3) during the second half Saturday in Waco.

Staff photo — Rod Aydelotte

The die-hard Baylor fans who stuck around late Saturday night weren’t celebrating a Big 12 championship or even an emotional win in the final seconds at McLane Stadium.

They’ve done that before for more successful Baylor squads in recent years.

When they stood up and cheered for this Baylor squad, freshman quarterback Charlie Brewer had just been sacked on a two-point conversion attempt that sealed the Bears’ 38-36 loss to No. 22 West Virginia.

What they applauded was an inspiring fourth-quarter effort in which the Bears scored 23 unanswered points to nearly pull off their first win of the season.

“It’s always great, just them being patient and them noticing the change that we’re making,” said Baylor freshman running back Trestan Ebner, who scored three fourth-quarter touchdowns. “If you have a good fan base, you tend to be really good. You hear about the Alabamas, the Ohio State fans, just all the fans that come out and support the teams that usually do good. So we want to do good for them.”

The Bears fell to 0-7 overall and 0-4 in the Big 12 with the loss to West Virginia. Baylor has its worst record since the 1969 team finished 0-10. But the Bears don’t feel like losers. They feel like a team that’s hungry to break through for their first win, and believe it’s right around the corner.

Baylor will have another shot to break into the win column against Texas at 11 a.m. Saturday at McLane Stadium. Like the Bears, the Longhorns (3-4, 2-2) are coming off a heartbreaking loss, a 13-10 overtime decision against No. 11 Oklahoma State that ended with freshman quarterback Sam Ehlinger throwing an interception in the end zone.

Saturday’s game could feature two freshman quarterbacks who were playing high school football in Austin last year: Lake Travis’ Brewer and Westlake’s Ehlinger. After replacing starting quarterback Zach Smith late in the third quarter against the Mountaineers, Brewer is ready to make his first start if Baylor coach Matt Rhule elects to go with him.

“I’d probably think you’re crazy if someone says they don’t want to start,” Brewer said. “Of course I do. That’s up to Coach Rhule and I trust him 100 percent.”

But Rhule isn’t ready to name a starting quarterback against Texas just yet. Making his fifth straight start for the Bears after replacing Anu Solomon, Smith put up solid numbers against West Virginia as he hit 16 of 27 passes for 261 yards despite struggling with stomach flu. But he was sacked five times and led the Bears to just one touchdown before Brewer replaced him with West Virginia leading 38-13.

Brewer gave the Bears a visible spark with both his passing and running abilities as he hit eight of 13 for 109 yards and two touchdowns and ran 10 times for 48 yards. But Rhule wants to watch the film and put some more thought into his decision before choosing a starter against the Longhorns.

“I think you would say both quarterbacks have the opportunity to start, but I have to see everything, see the film, see who’s feeling well,” Rhule said. “Charlie got beat up a little bit out there because he was running so much. We’ve known Zach’s a good quarterback and we’ve known Charlie is a good quarterback. So they’re a freshman and a sophomore. We’ll just continue to bring them along and see who continues to emerge.”

Rhule admits it’s a good problem to have two solid quarterbacks who could lead the Bears to their breakthrough win.

“Charlie showed that he had moxie out there,” Rhule said. “He showed that he’s going to go out there and compete. I think Zach showed his toughness to stand in there and take all the hits he took. So I definitely think it’s a good problem to have.”

Before the West Virginia game, Brewer had seen limited action. He played for the first time three weeks ago against Kansas State, but he didn’t attempt a pass and lost a yard on his only rushing attempt. In last week’s 59-16 loss to Oklahoma State in Stillwater, Brewer replaced a struggling Smith late in the game and hit three of seven for 41 yards with an interception.

But against the Mountaineers he showed the traits and leadership skills that helped him throw for 8,343 yards and 107 touchdowns during his storied career at Lake Travis. Brewer guided Lake Travis to the Class 6A Division I state championship last December with a 41-13 win over The Woodlands before getting a jumpstart on his Baylor career by enrolling in the spring.

If he starts against Texas, he will try to beat his father’s alma mater. Robert Brewer was the Longhorns’ quarterback when he led the Longhorns to a 14-12 win over Alabama in the 1982 Cotton Bowl.

With a depth starved offensive line, Brewer’s mobility gives the Bears more diversity.

“The one thing Charlie brings to the table is the ability to run and move,” Rhule said. “Zach didn’t feel well to begin with, so why continue to let him take a beating? He got sacked five times, and I didn’t want him to continue to stay in there.”

Rhule has relied a great deal on freshmen this season, and their impact was evident against the Mountaineers. Freshmen played a part in every Baylor touchdown with Brewer’s two scoring passes to Ebner along with touchdown runs by Ebner and John Lovett.

Ebner delivered a breakout game as he made five catches for 109 yards and three rushes for 54 yards. In the fourth quarter, he caught a 52-yard scoring pass from Brewer, popped loose for a 40-yard touchdown run, and then caught a 9-yard touchdown pass from Brewer that cut West Virginia’s lead to 38-36 with 17 seconds remaining.

“We never lost faith,” Ebner said. “We knew we had a chance to come back and win, so we just had to keep the momentum going. The defense got some good stops, so we just had to put the ball in the end zone. We’ve been in this situation before, we’re going to keep fighting and we’re not ever going to give up. We’re not going to give up this week or next week or any time after that.”

The Bears have improved a great deal since the two losses to Liberty and UTSA at McLane Stadium to open the season. They showed they could compete with a premier team like Oklahoma in a 49-41 loss at McLane Stadium on Sept. 23. Though they nearly pulled off a remarkable comeback against the Mountaineers, the Bears are tired of close losses.

“Everybody wants to win,” Brewer said. “It’s disappointing. It’s not OK to come up short like that. We need to regroup and have the best week of practice we’ve had so far.”

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