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Baylor wins Big 12 championship despite injuries

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Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty stood on the floor of Floyd Casey Stadium as a football player for the last time only moments before the 2:30 p.m. kickoff of the game with perennial powerhouse University of
Texas yesterday (Saturday), Dec. 7 and seemed to sigh almost in an attitude of, "Okay, game on. Not the best of circumstances, but Game On, anyway!"

The Bears were facing the Longhorns for the game which would decide which team would become the Big 12 champions for 2013. Baylor was a scoring machine for the first nine games of the season before they lost the top wide receiver in the nation Tevon Reese to a wrist injury, top linebacker Bryce Hager with a groin injury, left tackle Spencer Drango with back surgery and potential All-American running back Lache Seastrunk to a leg injury.

Because of the loss of these key players, Baylor was not the same team it was when it was averaging more than 60 points a game largely on the deep passing game from Petty to Reese. But since the victory against the University of Oklahoma when the injury plague struck five key Baylor players, the road had become difficult. With a perfect 9-0 record, the Bears were flying high for a possible national championship. But after the injuries, the Bears struggled to defeat Texas Tech and TCU while losing to Oklahoma State.

So Petty and his teammates might be forgiven if they had misgivings about having to playing a championship game without many of their most glittering stars. And their absence was apparent as the two teams struggled to a 3-3 tie at halftime.

Then Bryce Perry came out in the second half on fire throwing an 11-yard touchdown pass to Antwan Goodley on a crucial third down and nine play to keep Baylor it's first touchdown. Perry was good again on the next drive as he found Levi Norwood in the end zone for another touchdown and the Bears were in control 17-3 in the third quarter.

Norwood is one of the unsung heroes of this injured Baylor team as he has filled in amirably this season when Reese went down, frequently catch balls that probably would've gone to Tevon were he healthy. Norwood is also a brilliant punt returner as he showed by returning a critical punt for a touchdown against Texas Tech to break open that game.

Both Norwood and Reese should play in the NFL someday.

K.J. Morton has been another unsung hero as the defensive back stepped up and intercepted two passes, one of which led to a touchdown against Texas Saturday during the last game which will ever be played at Floyd Casey Stadium which is retiring after 64 years.

As a result of Baylor's 30-10 victory Saturday, the Bears clinch the Big 12 championship with an 11-1 record. It is the first time in history the Bears have won 11 games in a season. It will also be the first time they play in a BCS bowl game as they will play in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 1 in Phoenix Stadium.

Possibly the most unsung hero of them all is the left tackle who has been filling in since Drango underwent back surgery. His name has still not been published by anyone, yet he has done a good enough job blocking to give Petty enough time to complete his passes to win the conference championship. Hats off to the new left tackle, whatever your name is!

At the heart of this dream season for the Bears is of course the architect Coach Art Briles, best coach of the universe and certainly offensive guru of the century. His original strategy of placing wide receivers all across the field from one sideline to another, forces other teams to spread their defensive players all across the field on islands to cover them. This has created wide open spaces through which the receivers gallop downfield for huge chunks of yardage.

Not to be overlooked is defensive co-ordinator Bill Bennett who has transformed the defense into a ball-hawking turnover-creating unit which has now scored several touchdowns itself while disrupting opponents. Offensive co-ordinator Phil Montgomery is another key piece to the success as he has followed Briles from Stephenville High School where they won four state championships together.

The current Texas Tech coach who used to play for Briles described his mentor as "someone who can make you feel ten feet tall and do anything."

Evidently, Briles was able to do that yesterday as he inspired the Bears to a conference championship without some of their best players on the field.

Some additional good news for Baylor fans is that Tevon Reese may be back for their bowl game against the University of Central Florida. With Reese back, teams won't be able to concentrate so many players on Godley.

All in all, it was a fitting day to retire Floyd Casey Stadium with the team's first conference championship since 1980 when Grant Teaff led the Bears to a Southwest Conference Championship.

There have been great teams in the past when Coach John Bridgers took the Bears to the No. 2 ranking with the passing wizardry of Don Trull and the catching of Lawrence Elkins before they lost a hearbreaker to Texas 7-0.

One of the smartest things Bayor did was to re-sign Briles to a 10-year contract so Bears fans can enjoy watching the most exciting, highest-scoring team in the nation for another decade.

Sic 'em Bears!

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