ARLINGTON, Texas -- Dezmon Jackson came up inches short on a desperate, fourth-down dive in the final seconds for Oklahoma State, knocking the fifth-ranked Cowboys out of contention for a spot in the four-team playoff.
"Just heartbreak," Cowboys guard Josh Sills said.
Baylor safety Jairon McVea knocked Jackson out of bounds without letting him reach the pylon with 24 seconds remaining in the Big 12 championship game Saturday, preserving a 21-16 victory for ninth-ranked Baylor.
The Bears' win came a year after they went 2-7 in coach Dave Aranda's debut last season.
"This moment is something they can never take away," Bears linebacker Terrel Bernard said.
Aranda recalled Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy telling him "that winning is hard" before an earlier meeting between the teams. The title game was a sure example of that.
Blake Shapen, starting again for injured Gerry Bohanon (right hamstring) threw three TDs while completing his first 17 passes as Baylor (11-2) took a 21-3 lead in the first half.
But the Cowboys (11-2) rallied back, then went 89 yards on 17 plays on that final drive before their Big 12 and national championship hopes wound up just shy.
After having first-and-goal from 2 following a pass interference penalty, Jackson gained a yard and was held for no gain before an incomplete pass by Spencer Sanders.
On fourth down from the 1, Jackson tried to sweep wide left, but with McVea in pursuit, he barely missed while trying to reach the pylon in the front corner of the end zone.
"When I saw the running back with the ball, I thought I've got to run this guy down," McVea said, who wasn't even sure where the ball was when the tackle was made. "The ref signaled not a touchdown, so when I saw that I was pretty happy."
"They made a good play. It's not 27′s fault," Gundy said, referring to Jackson.
Sanders threw four interceptions, one by McVea, and the Cowboys were without leading rusher Jaylen Warren because of his lingering ankle and shoulder issues.
There would need to be some chaos, in the form of an upset or two in other conference title games later in the day, for third-time Big 12 champion Baylor to have a chance to be in the final four for the first time when the CFP rankings come out Sunday.
Aranda passed on politicking for the playoff. Baylor's 11 wins match a school record and came after the 2-7 record last year, when the pandemic wiped out spring drills when he was coming off a national championship as LSU defensive coordinator.
"I'm sure it will work out the way it's supposed to," he said.
Baylor won with 242 total yards of offense, only 36 after halftime. Shapen finished 23 of 28 for 180 yards passing overall.
Oklahoma State had a 3-0 lead on Tanner Brown's 23-yard field goal set up after all-purpose Baylor back Trestan Ebner fumbled on the opening drive of the game. Sanders threw picks on the next two drives, setting up Baylor with short fields for three-play TD drives -- a 2-yard TD pass to wide-open tight open Ben Sims and Drew Estrada's 4-yard scoring catch.
Baylor's 21-3 lead, and the Cowboys' largest deficit this season, came after an incredible 13-yard diving catch by Tyquan Thornton with a defender on his back with 5½ minutes left in the first half.
The Cowboys got within 21-16 on Brown's 20-yard field goal with 8:17 left. That was set up after Ebner muffed a punt recovered by Korie Black, who had ended the first half by deflecting a field goal attempt that came up woefully short.
McVea had his interception early in the second half, but Baylor failed to get a first down. Instead of punting from their own 36, the Bears went for it on fourth down and Shapen had to just throw the ball away without an open receiver. Eight plays later, Dominic Richardson scored on a 4-yard run for the Cowboys.
"I told the team in the locker room how proud I was that they've done everything we've asked them to do since January," Gundy said. "Came up just a few inches short, but I also made them aware of that doesn't have anything to do with what they've accomplished this year."
The Bears' season last year ended with a 42-3 home loss to Oklahoma State.
Asked if he could contrast the way last season ended with how his second year played out, Aranada simply said: "No."
Baylor: The Bears won the 2013 Big 12 title outright and shared in 2014 with TCU, both of those coming during a six-season stretch when there wasn't a championship game for the conference. Baylor lost to Oklahoma in the title game two years ago.
Oklahoma State: Sanders had seven interceptions in the two games this season against Baylor, though the Cowboys won the first meeting 24-14 on Oct. 2. The first pick Saturday was right to the defender, and the second one was picked off by leaping linebacker Matt Jones when Sanders, under pressure, tried to throw off his back foot toward the sideline. The other two interceptions were tipped passes. ... Oklahoma State, also without standout center Danny Godlevske had only 70 yards rushing on 40 carries (1.8 yards per carry).
Baylor: A New Year's Six bowl game, going to the Sugar Bowl if not in the playoff.
Oklahoma St.: Waiting to find out which bowl game awaits.