Baylor Bears

Petty’s prime-time performance resonates with teammates

The numbers surface routinely during NFL telecasts, reminding viewers the quarterback they are watching is Superman-in-Shoulder-Pads because has led X number of fourth-quarter comebacks in his career.

The “X” is different for everyone, with Peyton Manning the current record-holder (40). The implied message: the more you’ve got, the better you are and the more your team trusts you in crunch time.

Because college quarterbacks have shorter shelf lives, the stat rarely is applied at that level. But teammates embrace the significance.

And it became clear during Monday’s news conference that the latest addition to that ledger by Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty could have a lasting impact on the fourth-ranked Bears (6-0, 3-0 in Big 12) and their hopes of joining this year’s four-team College Football Playoff bracket.

Petty, a fifth-year senior, has collected multiple weekly honors since posting career highs for passing yards (510) and touchdown passes (6) during Saturday’s 61-58 victory over then-No. 9 TCU.

But those accolades pale in comparison to the way teammates view him after Petty directed four scoring drives in the final 11:38 to allow Baylor to erase a 21-point, fourth-quarter deficit.

“He’s a better leader this year,” Baylor offensive tackle Troy Baker said of Petty, who is 16-2 as the Bears’ starting quarterback. “That comes with experience. When you have the experience and you know what’s going to happen before it does, then you’re able to help other guys and lead them to expect those things.”

That, in a nutshell, is the quarterback Baker saw during crunch time against TCU. It marked a departure from last year, Petty’s first as a starter since the 2008 season at Midlothian High School. That version of Petty produced one fourth-quarter comeback, and it was a tepid one.

In last year’s 35-25 victory at Kansas State, Petty’s 54-yard touchdown strike to Tevin Reese erased a 25-21 deficit with 14:33 remaining. But Petty had multiple slow starts in matchups against quality opponents. The Bears, who finished 11-2, were unable to respond from early deficits in losses to Oklahoma State (49-17) and UCF (52-42).

Many analysts raised eyebrows again this season after Petty’s career-worst passing performance against Texas (7-of-22, 111 yards) on Oct. 4. But along came “Big Game” Bryce in last week’s top-10 showdown, authoring this season’s great escape by a playoff hopeful and causing teammates to buy in to the older, wiser Petty now in his second season as the Bears’ starting quarterback.

“He hadn’t played for a long time before last season. Now, it’s his team and he’s the leader of this team,” receiver Levi Norwood said. “Having that year under his belt as a starter really helps.”

Receiver Jay Lee said: “There’s a good vibe around him. We know when we stick behind Bryce, everything is going to work out.”

But some scoreboard affirmation always helps. That came against TCU, which only figures to benefit Baylor the next time they get in a crunch-time pinch. Like, say, against No. 11 Oklahoma (5-1, 2-1) on Nov. 8. Or in Saturday’s game at West Virginia (4-2, 2-1).

Asked how he rallied the troops from a three-touchdown deficit, Petty said: “I was going up and down the sideline saying, ‘Hey, guys, we’ve got this.’ And they’d look at me like, ‘Yeah, I know.’ It’s just amazing to me the team that we have. The attitude that, ‘I’ve got your back, you’ve got mine and we’ve been through worse.’ ”

Truth be told, Petty did not plant that thought in teammates’ heads. It comes from coach Art Briles, who described these Bears as mature and mentally tough.

“We’ve got tough guys that think tough and band together,” Briles said.

Yet every team needs a leader to carry that mindset to the field. Petty seized that opportunity against TCU, elevating his trust factor with teammates by throwing fourth-quarter touchdown passes covering 28, 25 and 7 yards. He also led a 44-yard march to a game-winning field goal as time expired.

Baylor offensive tackle Spencer Drango marveled Monday at an ESPN metric that calculated Baylor had less than a 2 percent chance of victory when the Bears began their comeback.

“It shows what kind of team we can be when the deck’s stacked against us,” Drango said. “As a whole unit, not just Bryce, everyone was locked in. Everyone was poised.”

But the guy who kept his poise better than anyone else was Petty, in Baker’s estimation. It resulted in a comeback victory for the ages. For the entire team, the benefits are impossible to quantify.

“It’s huge,” Baker said. “Now, he’s done it. You can’t coach experience. You can’t teach it. When somebody at that pivotal of a position has the experience, it means everything for the offense.”

It means a lot for the Bears’ playoff hopes as well.

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