UNC deals Wake Forest bitter defeat

The Demon Deacons are still in pole position to reach their first ACC Championship since 2006


Football’s resurgence was a prime subject in the sports section this year.

Essex Thayer, Sports Editor

Nearly a year ago to date, Wake Forest traveled to Kenan Stadium in Chapel Hill. With six and a half minutes remaining in the third quarter of that game, the Demon Deacons held a 21-point lead; but the team couldn’t hold on — they lost that game.

Fast forward to 2021, when Wake Forest once again stepped into enemy territory. This time around, with seven and a half minutes left in the third quarter, the Demon Deacons were leading by 18. Once again though, Wake Forest ceded their lead and lost the game.

Redshirt sophomore quarterback Sam Hartman had one of the best quarterback performances in the history of Kenan Stadium, yet he also made several mistakes that may have cost the Deacs the game. Despite combining for seven touchdowns — a Kenan Stadium record — Hartman also threw two avoidable interceptions.

After winning the opening coin toss, Wake Forest head coach Dave Clawson went with his default choice of deferring to the second half and thus giving North Carolina the ball to begin the game.

Clawson’s choice paid off early. On the first play from scrimmage, Tar Heels running back Ty Chandler ran to the left for a 13-yard gain, but at the end of the play, he fumbled the ball away. The Deacon’s recovered, gaining possession on the 38-yard line.

Attempting to capitalize on the early mistake from Chandler, Hartman ran off the right edge to the 3-yard line. With an added holding penalty, Wake Forest stood on the precipice of the goal line. Yet, they couldn’t find the end zone.

After a stopped run on first down, Wake Forest was penalized for illegal formation. Then, Hartman was sacked, moving the Deacons from the one-yard line to the nine. A missed pass to redshirt sophomore A.T. Perry forced the Demon Deacons to settle for a field goal attempt, which Nick Sciba nailed from 27 yards out.

On their first true series of the game, North Carolina relied heavily on the run. On their first three plays from scrimmage, Chandler and quarterback Sam Howell combined for 33 yards. After the runs, North Carolina’s only pass attempt of the drive fell incomplete, but a defensive holding penalty moved the Tar Heels 10 yards ahead and kept the drive alive.

After two rushes for a total of two yards, the Demon Deacons looked primed to get off the field. On third down, Wake Forest went all-out on a blitz and seemed to have pulled Howell to the ground for the sack.

At the last second, though, he escaped the rushers and sprinted ahead for 14 yards and the first down. Two plays later, Howell perfectly executed the option and ran 18 yards for the touchdown to give North Carolina the lead.

Wake Forest’s ensuing drive began inauspiciously, with Hartman throwing two incompletions and a false start moving the offense five yards back. But, on third down, redshirt junior wide receiver Jaquarii Roberson found space over the middle, and Hartman hit him in stride for 24 yards and the first down.

After two straight rushes from freshman running back Justice Ellison, along with an extra 15 yards because of a face mask penalty on the Tar Heels, Hartman hit tight end Blake Whiteheart for a 16-yard completion to move to the 14-yard line. Then, on third down, from the six-yard line, Hartman ran to his right looking to pass. With space, he pump-faked to Perry, then ran the ball into the endzone.

Down by three, North Carolina’s ensuing drive consisted of three straight rushes by D.J. Jones. While his first two runs totaled nine yards, the Wake Forest defense held firm on the third attempt, forcing the Tar Heels to punt, a three-and-out.

Looking to go up by two scores, Hartman took to the air. On first down, Hartman dropped back to pass, but was sacked for a loss of six yards. His second pass fell incomplete. On third down, Hartman’s third attempted pass of the drive was his most consequential — he was baited by the North Carolina secondary into throwing a ball over the top, and while his receiver looked open, UNC cornerback Cam’Ron Kelly jumped in front and hauled in the interception.

On North Carolina’s first play from scrimmage, Chandler snuck out to the left on a wheel route and was wide open for a 30-yard reception from Howell. Then, following an incompletion, Howell rushed up the middle. Despite three Demon Deacons in his way, Howell broke through each tackle en route to the end zone.

Down by four, Wake Forest embarked on an 11-play drive that took them 75 yards down the field. The first three plays of the drive saw Hartman complete three straight passes for 31 yards. Then, the offense took to the ground, rushing four times for 14 yards.

After a completion to graduate transfer Donald Stewart, Hartman ran on third-and-five for four yards, but was hit hard by linebacker Jeremiah Gemmel. The hit was deemed illegal and disqualified Gemmel from the game. More importantly, it gave Wake Forest the first down.

On first down, Hartman rolled to the right and found Roberson in the back of the end zone for the 15-yard touchdown, giving the lead back to the Demon Deacons.

On the following drive, after securing one first down, Wake Forest forced North Carolina into a fourth-down decision. On fourth-and-seven from the Wake Forest 40, the Tar Heels secured the first down with Howell finding receiver Josh Downs for 15 yards.

Then, three rushes proved costly for the Demon Deacons. After a five-yard run from Howell, Chandler ran right through the middle for 19 yards to the goal-line. From there, Howell rushed into the endzone.

Now down by four, Wake Forest began their drive with a 13-yard completion to Perry. Then, following two rushes from redshirt junior Christian Beal-Smith, Hartman threw to the left to Perry, who pulled the ball in with one hand for a sensational 32-yard score.

After the touchdown, the offenses ground to halt, combining for three straight disappointing drives that resulted in punts.

With the ball back following a North Carolina punt, Wake Forest moved the ball forward with two completions to Beal-Smith and Perry for 18 yards. Then, redshirt freshman wide receiver Taylor Morin got a step over the top, and Hartman hit him in stride for the 37-yard touchdown.

Trailing by 10 with only a minute left before halftime, North Carolina began their ensuing drive with a vengeance. After an 11-yard completion to receiver Antione Green, Howell ran the ball for 19 yards. Then, another pass to Green was deflected away, but a pass interference advanced the ball 15 yards forward. A 16-yard competition to Downs moved North Carolina to the Wake Forest 30, but from there, they were forced to kick the field goal. Wake Forest held a 31-24 lead going into the half.

Already up a score and set to receive the ball to begin the second half, Wake Forest had a prime opportunity to put some distance between themselves and the opposition, but were promptly ushered off the field by the North Carolina defense in a three-and-out.

On the second play from scrimmage of the ensuing drive, Howell found receiver Justin Olsen on the left side for a 45-yard completion. At their own six-yard line, though, Wake Forest held strong on three straight plays, holding North Carolina to only a field goal.

After four runs on the next drive, Wake Forest faced a fourth-and-one, but the play was negated as Hartman drew the defense offsides on a hard count. Then, Hartman once again found Morin over the top for a 29-yard completion. From there, Hartman handled the rest, scampering all the way into the end zone on a designed run up the middle.

After a North Carolina three-and-out, Wake Forest capitalized, giving them an 18-point lead. Following a run to begin the drive, Hartman found Roberson wide open on the left side for a 66-yard touchdown.

Down by 18, North Carolina began to mount their comeback, beginning their drive with four straight rushes for a total of 35 yards. Then, after an 11-yard completion, Green beat cornerback Zion Keith on a fly route, and Howell hit him in stride for the 29-yard touchdown.

In response, the Demon Deacons marched all the way to the North Carolina 24-yard line, but on third-and-six, Hartman’s pass was batted down at the line, forcing a field goal.

Down by 14, North Carolina used a balance of runs and passes to move down the field. An extra 15 yards off an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty from graduate defensive tackle Luigi Vilain gave the Tar Heels all they needed. After the penalty, Chandler rushed down the right sideline for the score.

On the following drive, an apparent mistake from the referees proved to be the downfall for Wake Forest. On third down, it appeared that the Tar Heels jumped offsides, making Hartman believe he had a free play. Except he didn’t. Hartman’s errant pass was intercepted, and with no flags on the field, the ball went right back into the hands of North Carolina.

After the interception, a 21-yard rush from Chandler secured a touchdown, and just like that, the game was even for the first time since the opening kickoff.

After securing two first downs, Ellison ran four straight times for 43 yards, advancing the Demon Deacons well into North Carolina territory where they faced a fourth down. After Clawson elected to go for it, Hartman’s pass was deflected at the line, which gave the ball back to the Tar Heels with a chance to reclaim the lead.

With Chandler running the offense, and with help from an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Keith, North Carolina reached the Demon Deacon six-yard line, but was once again stopped by a stout defensive line, forcing the Tar Heels to settle for another field goal. With two minutes remaining, Wake Forest had a chance to score the touchdown and win the game.

After securing one first down, Hartman’s next four passes all fell incomplete, giving the ball back to North Carolina. A 50-yard touchdown run by Chandler on the first play following the turnover-on-downs effectively iced the game.

Despite scoring a touchdown in the game’s dying moments on a pass to Roberson, the Demon Deacons couldn’t fall on the ensuing onside kick, giving the Tar Heels the win, and allowing the fans to rush the field and celebrate.

Despite the loss, everything’s not lost. With North Carolina technically being an out-of-conference opponent, No. 13 Wake Forest stands in the exact same place in terms of their quest to win the ACC as they did prior to the matchup. A win on Saturday against NC State under the lights would put the Demon Deacons in a position to play in Charlotte in December in the ACC Championship.