It was one of those days that Wake Forest football fans dream about — 60 degrees and sunny, with a slight breeze — prime for fall football (and tailgating, if this were another age). The 750 eager Deacs who filled up the student allotment at Truist Field as the Demon Deacons took on the Virginia Cavaliers on Saturday probably felt a tad sad for their less-fortunate peers, who watched from dorm rooms as Wake Forest put up 40 points and collected a crucial in-conference win.
Having not played since the demolition against Campbell back on Oct. 2, there was considerable concern that the team that took the field Saturday would not be fit to play. And while the 66 points the Demon Deacons put up against their FCS opponent over two weeks ago were certainly impressive, questions remained as to whether such offensive success could be replicated against a strong ACC team in UVA.
“This is the game where we will see who Wake Forest really is,” Jordan Cornette of the ACC network said prior to kickoff.
Saturday’s performance proved not only that the stat-lines posted against Campbell were not a fluke, but more importantly, that the Demon Deacons are an ascending team with the talent, motivation and aptitude to win against ACC opponents.
Less than four minutes into the game, the Demon Deacons had already completed two drives, worth a total of 127 yards, and good for 14 points. To that point, the redshirt sophomore quarterback, Sam Hartman, had been perfect, completing on all four of his attempts (two of which went for over 40-yards).
“We came out like gang-busters in that first quarter,” Head Coach Dave Clawson said in his post-game press conference.
Hartman finished the game 16-for-27, racking up over 300 yards and one touchdown en route to the victory. In his post-game press conference, Hartman was quick to credit his success in the air to redshirt junior wide receiver Jaquarii Roberson and redshirt sophomore wide receiver A.T. Perry as well as what he called an under-appreciated offensive line.
The passing game only tells part of the story of the 40 points the Deacons put up against the Cavaliers. Sophomore running back, Kenneth Walker III, was again phenomenal, rushing for three touchdowns and 128 yards on 23 carries. Walker’s biggest run of the day couldn’t have come at a more crucial moment. UVA had just capped off a 28-yard drive with a field goal at the beginning of the fourth quarter to level the score at 23 apiece when Walker bounced around behind the line before finding his gap and taking the ball 75-yards to the house.
“That was the big play we needed,” Clawson said after the game.
Hartman agreed, saying “It pretty much won us the game.”
For his efforts, Walker was named the ACC running back of the week. Walker now leads the ACC in rushing touchdowns, with seven over his last three games.
The junior kicker, Nick Sciba also contributed offensively. Sciba was perfect on the day, accounting for 16 total points — with four coming from extra point attempts, and the other 12 coming from four field goals, including one from 44-yards out.
The defense also stepped up momentously, especially in the second half in which they held the UVA offense to a single field goal.
“[We knew that] the better defense was going to win tonight,” the redshirt senior and defensive back, Traveon Redd said, following the game.
The Demon Deacons recorded two interceptions and recovered a fumble off of a muffed short kickoff, giving the team a +9 turnover margin on the season, the best of the Dave Clawson era.
“I’m especially proud of our defense,” Clawson said. “We’ve struggled on that side of the ball … so to play the way we did against an ACC team in that second half and only give up three points [was impressive].”
Saturday’s game, which was the 50th contest between the two schools, saw the Deacs extend their win streak over the Cavaliers to four, marking the longest in program history.
All-in-all, the win was a monumental one as the Deacons try to find a rhythm going into a stretch of the season in which they will play three games in three weeks for the first time. And with seven games against ACC opponents on the horizon — several of which will be against ranked teams — the Demon Deacons need to continue to improve.
“This football team has to be an ascending team. We need these wins to keep us going,” Clawson said. “This was really big for our momentum, and to give our team a shot of confidence.”
Be sure to tune in next Saturday at 3:30 p.m. to see if the Deacs can extend their win-streak to three when the Virginia Tech Hokies come to Winston-Salem.