Demon Deacons can’t claw back against Clemson

Wake Forest falls one spot to No. 22 in AP Poll after close defeat to Tigers


Evan Harris

Sam Hartman (No. 10 in black) commands the Wake Forest offense against Clemson.

Cooper Sullivan, Multimedia Managing Editor

After the 51-45 loss in double overtime to No. 5 ranked Clemson, an exhausted Sam Hartman sat down in a chair in the corner of the press room. The thin black plastic chair was tasked with holding up a leader who felt the weight of the world on his still-padded shoulders. Hartman looked through the crowd of reporters and cameras and focused on the back wall as if he were looking for something.

“We lost, so it’s a failure,” Hartman said. “Stats are great, touchdowns are great, but a loss is a loss.”

Hartman threw for 337 yards and 6 touchdowns, a new school record, and orchestrated four straight scoring drives in the second half to force the game to a second overtime. Four different wideouts scored, running backs Justice Ellison and Christian Turner added 100 yards of offense on the ground, the defense hit quarterback DJ Uiagalelei eight times and broke up seven of his passes and kicker Matthew Dennis didn’t miss once. Yet none of this was enough to come out on top.

The Wake Forest student section cheers on the Demon Deacons. (Evan Harris)

“[Wide receivers] Coach [Kevin] Higgins talked to us last night about playing with focus, playing with detail and just being completely mentally and physically exhausted at the end of the game,” fifth-year center Michael Jurgens said. “That’s how we feel right now. They just made one more play.”

That last play was the game-saving pass breakup that left the Wake Forest offense standing stunned. Sophomore cornerback Nate Wiggins was called on twice earlier in the day for pass interference (two of six total PI calls on Clemson) — both of which were in coverage on wide receiver A.T. Perry. Wiggins made the proper readjustment on an underthrown ball on that last play to prevent Perry from making the catch.

There were plenty of miscues on both sides of the ball, especially on defense. The first Clemson play saw running back Will Shipley run untouched for 53 yards. Uiagalelei would then zip a touchdown to Jake Briningstool as defensive tackle Tyler Williams got to the quarterback a half-step too slow. The very next touchdown pass, this time to Brannon Spector, went straight through the hands of cornerback Gavin Holmes.

This 14-0 deficit wouldn’t last long, however. By the end of the first half, Wake Forest had gotten into a rhythm and slowed down the powerful Tiger offense, forcing head coach Dabo Swinney to settle for field goals. Paired with two end zone deposits from sophomore receiver Jahmal Banks, the Deacons whittled down the Clemson lead to a manageable 20-14 going into halftime.

Clemson had won the initial coin toss and elected to defer, but they were not able to capitalize on their first possession of the second half, punting a staggering 21-yards after heavy pressure from Holmes and senior end Rondell Bothroyd. The Demon Deacons would march down the field in four plays, topping off the crucial possession with a perfectly in-stride touchdown catch by Donavon Greene to gain the lead for the very first time.

The next pair of drives saw the exact same results. The defense coerced another Clemson three-and-out thanks to Bothroyd, and Hartman followed up the stop with a cross-field march to score, this time with a rope of a pass to tight end and Winston-Salem product Blake Whiteheart who elevated over his defender to reel in the 19-yard dagger to put the Deacs up 28-20. The two ACC Atlantic rivals would trade scores until the end of regulation and eventually the second overtime.

Stats are great, touchdowns are great, but a loss is a loss.

— Wake Forest QB Sam Hartman

Defensive tackle Kobie Turner, credited with six tackles and one 2-point conversion denying deflection was quick to praise Hartman and the offense’s performance.

“I thought it was spectacular. It’s being a part of a team where you have a high powered offense, where if you come off onto the sideline, and maybe you gave up a touchdown, maybe you gave up three points. Knowing that they’re gonna go right out there and get it right back, that’s one of the most encouraging things.”

Head coach Dave Clawson echoed his player’s statements.

“I’m proud of our team,” Clawson said. “We battled and competed. Our kids played so hard. The locker room is hurting right now. This football team has invested a lot and they care a lot. They expected to win this game.”

Turner reinforced the thought that while the end result wasn’t the one imagined, Wake Forest is far from rolling over.

“We are a team that’s going to fight and if anybody in that stadium, if anybody watching on TV didn’t understand that, then I don’t know what they were looking at,” Turner said.

When Hartman finally rose from the chair in the corner to his bare feet, quick to save an emotional Jurgens from an awkward question, it was clear that he was still fighting for his team, fighting through his emotions, well after the final whistle. Hartman didn’t say much during the presser, but as he walked out, only one thing was left lingering in his mind — the next game against Florida State. All he was doing sitting in that chair earlier was looking forward.