By Jimmy Burch Fort Worth Star-Telegram
WACO, Texas — Baylor safety Ahmad Dixon seized the postgame moment, arriving for his interview with two bags of tortilla chips made by the Fiesta Bowl sponsor as well as a sign emblazoned with Baylor logos that read “2013 Big 12 champs.”
The Waco native placed those items at the dais before answering questions about the Bears’ 30-10 victory over No. 25 Texas that made the sign’s message a reality in front of a stadium-record crowd of 51,728 in the final game played at Floyd Casey Stadium.
“This is one of the greatest things I’ve ever been a part of in my life,” Dixon said, summing up the emotions of a town and fan base that spent much of Saturday night pinching themselves after the Bears’ big win. “It was like a dream. All the seniors were up there telling each other, ‘Wow, this really happened.’ That dream became reality.”
Saturday’s result, coupled with No. 17 Oklahoma’s 33-24 upset of No. 6 Oklahoma State earlier in the day, allowed No. 9 Baylor (11-1, 8-1 Big 12) to set a school record for victories in a season while finishing alone atop a set of conference football standings for the first time since 1980, when the Bears claimed the Southwest Conference title.
Baylor is headed to the Fiesta Bowl, where the Bears are expected to face Central Florida (11-1), winner of the American Athletic Conference. The matchup will be formalized Sunday .
But for the guys in green, Saturday night was all about celebrating Baylor’s ability to break open a 3-3 contest with a game-turning, 17-0 stretch to begin the third quarter. Afterward, quarterback Bryce Petty hugged fans and wept.
Coach Art Briles and offensive guard Cyril Richardson, a North Crowley graduate, helped pull the power plug and turned out the lights at “The Case,” Baylor’s football home for the past 64 seasons.
Baylor had its ceremonial extinguishing of the stadium lights shortly after the Bears buried any title hopes for Texas (8-4, 6-2) during a dominant defensive performance. Baylor limited Texas to 217 total yards and allowed the Longhorns to convert just 2 of 17 third-down opportunities.
Texas quarterback Case McCoy completed just 35.3 percent of his passes (12 of 34) for 54 yards, with the Longhorns reaching the Baylor red zone just once in 15 drives.
Texas completed its fourth consecutive season without winning at least a share of a conference championship or division title, a first in its 16 seasons under coach Mack Brown. The loss raised more questions about Brown’s future, which Brown sidestepped after the contest.
“I’m not talking about any of that tonight. I’m in the same position I was for the other 15 times I’ve been asked,” said Brown, whose team is expected to play in either the Alamo Bowl or Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl.
Baylor, on the other hand, is headed to its first BCS bowl in school history.
The Bears got there on the shoulders of their defense and Petty, who threw for 287 yards and two touchdowns while leading an attack that finished with 508 yards.
On the field, Petty let his emotions flow. As well as his tear ducts.
“Words can’t describe this,” said Petty, a fourth-year junior from Midlothian. “That’s what the tears were for. I just kind of started crying uncontrollably. It’s been a process. I think some of those fans were crying more than I was and that’s what it’s all about.”
Oklahoma (10-2) opened the door for Baylor to claim a solo title by knocking off Oklahoma State in Saturday’s early game. The victory put OU in position for an at-large BCS berth, made OSU (10-2) the favorite to play an SEC opponent in the AT&T Cotton Bowl Classic (Jan. 3 in Arlington) and raised the stakes in Waco.
Baylor took full advantage during a pivotal 17-0 stretch in the decisive third quarter. The Bears ran 28 plays, gained 153 yards, scored two touchdowns and added a field goal. Texas, during the same stretch, gained 3 yards in two three-and-out possessions (0.5 yards per snap) and punted twice.
Game, set, match and Big 12 title to Baylor. The Bears struck the biggest blow with Antwan Goodley’s one-handed, 11-yard touchdown catch to cap a 77-yard drive with the opening possession of the third quarter. The score converted a third-and-9 situation.
“That one-handed catch turned the game around,” Petty said. “We settled down after that.”
Baylor followed with a 47-yard touchdown drive and a 27-yard march that produced Aaron Jones’ 42-yard field goal with 2:13 left in the third quarter, increasing the lead to 20-3. Texas never answered.
“They made a couple of plays there in the third quarter and got their rhythm going. We never did,” Brown said.
Other than the game-high 131 rushing yards by Texas tailback Malcolm Brown, the rest of the Longhorns’ offense managed just 86 yards on 44 snaps (1.9 per play). Baylor went on to claim a Big 12 title that Briles called “a defining moment for our program and one we hope we’ll be able to repeat multiple times.”
But the next one, in Petty’s estimation, could not be sweeter for a program that did not reach a bowl game in its first 14 seasons as a Big 12 member (1996-2009).
“If mountains were smooth, you couldn’t climb them,” Petty said.
The Bears finished their climb Saturday in decisive fashion.