WACO, Texas (AP) — Stephen Calvert threw for 447 yards and three touchdowns and Liberty spoiled Matt Rhule’s coaching debut at Baylor, stunning the Bears with just their second-ever loss to a lower-division team in a 48-45 victory Saturday night.
The Bears lost their seventh straight regular-season game since starting 6-0 last season, while a 19-game regular-season winning streak against nonconference opponents ended.
Rhule was hired after a year with interim coach Jim Grobe following a sexual assault scandal that led to the firing of two-time Big 12-winning coach Art Briles. The Bears lost an opener for the first time since Briles’ first game in 2008.
Baylor’s only other loss to a lower-division team was 18-17 to Division I-AA Lamar in the 1981 opener, when the Bears were coming off one of two Southwest Conference championships under Grant Teaff, the school’s winningest coach.
“This was not what we wanted tonight,” said Rhule, hired after consecutive 10-win seasons during a four-year stint at Temple. “It does not mean I’m not proud of them. I put this on me. I put this on the coaches. It’s our job to get it fixed.”
The matchup of private Christian schools was a big win for Liberty and athletic director Ian McCaw, who resigned the same job at Baylor last year after a scathing report over the school’s handling of sexual assault cases involving football players.
Calvert, the sophomore quarterback guiding the Flames in their final FCS season, also ran for a score while helping Liberty to its first win over a Big 12 school and fifth against an FBS opponent. Liberty is transitioning to full-time FBS status in 2019. Calvert was 44 of 60 without an interception.
Antonio Gandy-Golden had a career-high 192 yards receiving and two touchdowns, including a 13-yarder that put Liberty ahead for good at 34-31 late in the third quarter.
“I would say so,” Liberty coach Turner Gill said when asked if the win was an upset. “Baylor is a big-time school. They’ve been dominant the past four, five years. And for our team to come in here in their place and win a football game, absolutely.”
The teams traded touchdowns twice in the fourth quarter, starting with Calvert’s 8-yard run on a broken play for a 10-point lead. The Bears twice got within three points on touchdown runs from John Lovett, who had 89 yards after starting running back JaMycal Hasty left in the first half with a lower-extremity injury.
The Flames ran out all but 32 seconds of the final five minutes. Anu Solomon’s desperation pass as the clock expired was intercepted around the 10-yard line by Calvert, in the game to defend the Hail Mary.
“You didn’t see any guys in the locker room saying, ‘Hey defense you did this. Hey offense you did this,'” Rhule said “You saw a bunch of guys that said, ‘Hey this is what happened. Let’s move forward.’ Hoping every guy in this room says, ‘Hey what could I have done differently.’ If we all have that approach, we’ll be fine.”
Liberty: A huge boost as the Flames start the process of transitioning to FBS, and a good moment for Gill. He flamed out after two seasons at Kansas, which included two losses to the Bears.
Baylor: Clearly Rhule has plenty of work to do after starting late with just one recruit as a result of the fallout from the assault scandal. The Bears’ first three Big 12 games are against teams currently ranked, two of them in the top 10.
Liberty: The Flames begin pursuit of an FCS playoff berth in their final season of eligibility at home against Morehead State next Saturday.
Baylor: The Bears face an opponent for the first time for the second straight week in a visit from UTSA next Saturday.
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