WACO — Charlie Brewer walked off the field and waived as the fans that had stuck around at McLane Stadium expressed their appreciation.
Not because Baylor won. It didn’t, the Bears remained winless and lost their seventh straight game this season, falling 38-36 to No. 23 West Virginia. But the thinning crowd gave them a standing ovation because the young team took a clear step forward and showed a glimpse at what the not so distant future could hold.
“There aren’t many places you go where people value what they see over just the scoreboard,” Baylor head coach Matt Rhule said. “Somebody has to go through this for Baylor. They’re enduring this though time and they did it tonight with class. There’s going to be a day when the scoreboard is flipped.”
Brewer replaced starting quarterback Zach Smith in the fourth quarter and sparked the Bears, helping them score the final 23 points and come within a two-point conversion of sending their game to overtime. He finished 2-for-13 for 109 yards and two touchdowns.
His first career college touchdown was a 52-yard pass to Trestan Ebner, the first of 23 straight points for the Bears. They recovered an onside kick on the ensuing kickoff and marched 49 yards in two plays to cut the lead to 11 points.
“Every week I try to be as ready as possible,” Brewer said. “You never know when your number will be called. Everybody wants to win. It’s disappointing. It’s not ok to come up short like that and we need to regroup.”
West Virginia quarterback Will Grier, who passed for 375 yards and five touchdowns, and wide receiver David Sills continued their record-setting season with three more connections.
Sills, who committed to play for then-Southern California head coach Lane Tiffin as a seventh grader in 2010, finished with 136 receiving yards and now has 15 touchdowns catches on the season, six more than any other player in the country.
Grier and Sills connected twice in the first half, including an 18-yard score with one second remaining in the half. Baylor settled for a pair of field goals by Connor Martin, who hit three in the game.
Rhule said the locker room at the break resembled a morgue and was completed different feeling from when the Bears trailed Oklahoma by just 11 points three weeks ago.
West Virginia scored twice in the final six minutes of the third quarter and led by as much as 25.
Ebner wand Denzel Mims each finished with more than 100 receiving yards and Ebner also rushed for 54 yards and a touchdown on the drive after the onside kick to once again cut the Mountaineers’ lead to 11 points.
“Those kids want something good to happen,” Rhule said. “The touchdown to the onside kick to the touchdown really gave them some hope. It’s hard to be optimistic when things aren’t going your way, but they continue to be optimistic.”
The two-point conversion was a sprint out option for Brewer. If he couldn’t take it himself, he’d theoretically throw it back to the tight end or one of the other three options in the end zone.
Baylor and Rhule will continue their pursuit of a win next week when Texas, which lost to Oklahoma State in overtime on Saturday, comes to McLane Stadium for an 11 a.m. kickoff before traveling to face off with lowly Kansas on Nov. 4.
Brewer, a Lake Travis alumnus, said he wouldn’t be a competitor if he didn’t want to get the start against Texas and Westlake grad Sam Ehlinger, but added he completely trusts Rhule.
“I don’t like this season, but I appreciate it,” Rhule said. “I don’t want the kids to like losing. But I appreciate what we’re trying to get done. We continue to coach and appreciate the effort it takes to go from a team that lost to Liberty to one at the very least we don’t quit and we fight.”