WACO, Texas (AP) — Things went from sweet to bitter for No. 12 Baylor in its regular-season finale.
The Bears are out of contention for a Sugar Bowl bid after a 23-17 loss to Texas on Saturday, a picture-perfect day in their riverside stadium marred by their third loss in four games and a bench-clearing scuffle in the first quarter.
Tyrone Swoopes, making his first start for Texas since the opener, threw for 151 yards with a touchdown and ran for another score as the Longhorns (5-7, 4-5 Big 12) held on after building a 20-0 halftime lead.
Johnny Jefferson ran for 158 yards for Baylor (9-3, 6-3), and had enough yards to convert a fourth-and-4 with 2:31 left before defensive tackle Poona Ford stripped the ball loose and fell on it.
Baylor still had a chance after the Longhorns punted, but Jefferson’s pass from the Texas 47 on the last play of the game was incomplete. Jefferson, a running back with a stronger arm, attempted the pass instead of Lynx Hawthorne, the fourth Bears quarterback forced into action after another injury.
The Bears were in line to be the Big 12’s representative in the Sugar Bowl against an SEC team, with the expectation that league champ Oklahoma (11-1) will get into the College Football Playoff. That would now send Oklahoma State (10-2) to New Orleans for the Jan. 1 game.
The Bears, coming off a double-overtime loss at TCU the night after Thanksgiving, have consecutive losses for the first time since dropping four in a row midway through the 2012 season. They have lost back-to-back home games after a 20-game home winning streak that included their first 10 games at McLane Stadium.
The NCAA approved a plan this week to make teams with 5-7 records eligible for at least two bowl bids, and as many as five, based on their Academic Progress Rates. Those selections will be made in order of best available APR, and there were at least seven teams above Texas on that list.
Hawthorne, a junior receiver who last called signals in high school, ran for a touchdown. But he was only 10 of 22 for 64 yards with two interceptions after Chris Johnson had concussion-like symptoms from a hard hit when he fumbled on a run in the first quarter.
Baylor went with primarily a wildcat offense after halftime, with running backs Jefferson and Terence Williams taking some direct snaps.
The Bears were within 20-17 when Hawthorne scored on an 8-yard keeper with 9:40 left. He took off toward the right sideline, planted his right foot near the 3 and dived forward with the ball in his stretched-out left hand to break the plane for the score.
After being intercepted by Duke Thomas late in the first quarter, Hawthorne made the tackle along the Texas sideline and was coming up off his knees when he got shoved back to the ground by safety P.J. Locke III.
With Texas celebrating the play and Baylor players trying to protect Hawthorne, a melee ensued. The Bears came across the field from their bench, and there were several scuffles even with referees and coaches between them trying to keep the teams separated. Bears receiver Corey Coleman gave Locke a two-handed shove.
The only penalty was unsportsmanlike conduct against Kevin Vaccaro, though it appeared the Texas safety tripped over Hawthorne after Locke’s shove.
Hawthorne threw another interception in the second quarter, a play when Locke was called for holding on the return after what was really a scuffle with Coleman on the opposite side of the field from where the ball was.
Locke also caused the fumble with the hit the knocked Johnson out of the game.
Anthony Wheeler’s recovery at the Baylor 18 led to Swoopes’ 9-yard keeper for a 17-0 lead.
Johnson was starting his second game since replacing freshman Jarrett Stidham, who broke a bone in his ankle in his third start. Junior Seth Russell was the top-rated FBS passer when he suffered a season-ending neck injury Oct. 24.