Homecoming: it's one of the most revered weekends on the calendar if you a Baylor student, alum or fan. It's not just the bonfire and parade, which unfortunately will not be a part of the 2015 festivities, but its just the spirit in air and the feeling of being a part of something greater than yourself that makes Homecoming at Baylor so special. We were the first to do Homecoming and we do it bigger and better than any other university in the country.
There was a special vibe around the Homecoming game in 2010, as Baylor prepared for a game with #23 Kansas State. The Bears were coming off a 31-26 win at Colorado and were 5-2 on the season with a chance to clinch bowl eligibility for the first time in 15 years with a win. Art Briles was in his third year at the helm and was eager to put his fingerprints on the program. Baylor was led in 2010 by a young but explosive offense led by a healthy Robert Griffin III, Jay Finley, and a stable of weapons at wide receiver. The defense? Well, they put 11 guys on the field usually.
A crowd of over 40,000 packed into Floyd Casey Stadium on an unseasonably muggy late October afternoon in anticipation of a big celebration. All they needed was a Baylor victory. The Bears won the toss and looked to get the offense going early. After two quick BU 1st downs, Griffin hit Terrance Williams for a 9 yard gain to move into K-State territory. As the Bears set up to run a 2nd down play, the referees stopped play and announced that the teams would be pulled off the field as there was lightning spotted in the vicinity of The Case. The game was being delayed after just four plays. About 20 minutes into the delay, rain began to fall.
And man, did it ever rain.
A tremondous thunderstorm roared through Waco, leaving those in attendance to cram into the fairly tight concession areas underneath the stands at Floyd Casey. Finally after nearly two hours of being packed in like a can of sardines, the storm passed and football resumed again. Baylor's offense picked up right where it left off as Jay Finley darted up the middle for 17 yards. Three plays later, Griffin hit Josh Gordon with a 28 yard TD pass and the Bears took a 7-0 lead in what is unquestionably the longest drive of the Briles era.
K-State would respond with a touchdown of their own and the two teams traded scores for much of the 1st half as the Bears' balanced attack and the Wildcats' potent ground game both dominated the defense of the opposition. With the score tied at 21-21, Griffin hit Gordon on a deep ball for another long TD to give the Bears the lead and Aaron Jones tacked on a field goal just before half to give Baylor a 31-21 lead heading to the locker room. The Bears were 30 minutes away from sewing up a spot in the postseason.
Then things got crazy to start the 2nd half. K-State RB Daniel Thomas, who was unstoppable in the 1st half, fumbled on the second play of the half giving Baylor an instant red zone scoring opportunity. But after the Bears failed to get a 1st down and had to settle for another Jones field goal, William Powell returned the ensuing kickoff 100 yards for the Wildcat touchdown, making the score 34-28. Baylor looked as if it would have an immediate response as Finley carried up the middle, broke through the secondary, and was off to the races. But as he approached the goal line, he was caught by KSU safety Stephen Harrison, who appeared to pop the ball free from behind inside the 5 yard line and was recovered by a Wildcat in the end zone for a touchback. On the field, Finley was ruled to have been down before the fumble but replay review overturned the call and awarded the ball to Kansas State. An 82 yard run all for naught.
All of a sudden the momentum favored the Wildcats and there was a sense of nervousness over the crowd. The much maligned Baylor defense needed to make a statement. And on 3rd and 2, Thomas was stuffed by Baylor's leader on defense, Byron Landor. This gave the ball back to Baylor and Robert Griffin straight up took over the game. The Bears scored touchdowns on back to back possessions with Griffin a perfect 7/7 for 102 yards over that stretch, capped off by a 30 yard touchdown pass on the run to a streaking Kendall Wright to stretch the Baylor lead to 47-28 on the first play of the 4th quarter.
K-State responded immediately with a 67 yard touchdown pass to cut the lead to 12 but the Baylor defense was able to slow down the Wildcat offense just enough throughout the 4th quarter to make the lead stand up. KSU QB Carson Coffman scored on a 1 yard TD run with 7 seconds left to make for one final onside kick, but Josh Gordon recovered and all the Bears had to do was take a knee for the 47-42 win.
A hearty number of Baylor fans stuck around through the long afternoon and most joined the team on the field in to celebrate what would be Baylor's first bowl appearance since the 1994 Alamo Bowl when the Southwest Conference was still in existence. It was a sense of relief, accomplishment, and university pride all mixed into one moment. Players carried around newspaper headlines that said "Bowl Bound". Baylor football mattered again and at the time, that was a high water moment that many younger Baylor fans had never experienced before. There were no Heisman trophies, no Big 12 championships, no national championship aspirations. But there was this moment which is so very great in its own right and was just a building block of what was to come.
Happy Homecoming everyone. Sic 'Em Bears.