Baylor stages remarkable comeback, ruins UCF Big 12 Conference debut, 36-35

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UCF BEATS CINCINNATI - AP/PHOTO

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Baylor erased a 35-7 third-quarter deficit, scoring 29 unanswered points and taking the lead on a 25-yard field goal Isaiah Hankins with 1:21 left to play to beat Big 12 newcomer UCF 36-35 in the the Knights’ first conference home game on Saturday afternoon.

The 28-point comeback marked the largest comeback in Baylor history.

UCF drove to the Baylor 41-yard line, including a wild fourth-down scramble from quarterback Timmy McClain that saw him backtrack from the 30-yard line to slip a tackle in the end zone before finding R.J. Harvey at the UCF 46-yard line for a 16-yard gain.

But Colton Boomer missed a 59-yard field goal as time expired, sealing UCF’s defeat.

The Bears used two turnovers and four straight scoring drives to complete the improbable comeback, closing to 35-33 with more than six minutes to play after Caden Jenkins scooped up a fumbled snap and raced 72 yards for a touchdown.

UCF raced to a 21-0 lead thanks to big plays from Johnny Richardson, who took the Knights’ opening play of the game 79 yards. They led 28-7 at the half thanks to Demari Richardson forcing a fumble and returning it 87 yards for his own scoop-and-score.

But the Knights offense struggled to get going after a touchdown drive to open the third quarter. UCF tallied only 98 yards the rest of the game with two turnovers, an interception that set up a Baylor touchdown and the fumble returned for a touchdown.

Blake Shapen, who returned from a three-game absence following an MCL injury from the opening week, finished 21 for 34 and 293 yards with 105 yards in the second half. Wide receiver Monaray Baldwin finished the game with seven catches for 150 yards and a touchdown.

UCF’s McClain finished with 234 yards passing, two touchdowns and one interception.

QUARTERBACKS ON THE MEND

Baylor welcomed back quarterback Blake Shapen after he suffered an MCL injury during the Bears’ season-opening loss to Texas State.

Meanwhile, UCF starting quarterback John Rhys Plumlee was dressed and warmed up for the Knights after injuring his leg three weeks ago at Boise State. He did not play. Coach Gus Malzahn told reporters Monday that Plumlee is ahead of schedule in his recovery.

QUICK STRIKE

UCF continued to work a quick strike offense as one of the more explosive in the nation.

The Knights’ 79-yard touchdown run from Johnny Richardson on the opening play was the team’s longest play from scrimmage this season and the first time the Knights scored on their opening play since a win over Rice in 2009.

UCF scored on its first three possessions with just eight plays and 2:28 off the clock.

The Knights scored 28 first-half points despite holding the ball for only 6:58. Baylor had the ball for a little more than 11 more minutes in the game. The Knights still outgained the Bears 469-446 despite the comeback.

UCF entered the game outscoring its opponents by 18.3 points per game and 218.2 yards per game but have had the ball for 1:02 per game less than its opponents.

THE TAKEAWAY: UCF is learning very quickly how different football is in the Big 12. Even playing at home, no lead is comfortable in conference play.

The Knights hoped to celebrate their first Big 12 victory against the same team they made their mark against 10 years ago in the Fiesta Bowl. But UCF is still learning how to put together a complete game in conference.

For Baylor, the Bears welcomed back Blake Shapen from his early-season absence and showed how much he can change the offense, leading Baylor to its largest comeback in program history.

UP NEXT: UCF heads to No. 24 Kansas next week. Baylor will host Texas Tech.

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AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/college-football and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-football-poll  by Taboola