Defense shines as Wake Forest takes down Army 45-10 at home

After giving up 56 to Army last year, the defense’s stellar performance is a sign of massive improvement


Evan Harris

Members of the Wake Forest defense point to the Wake Forest end zone after a fumble recovery.

Sean Kennedy, Contributing Writer

This past Saturday, Wake Forest’s defense was on a mission — do not play this game against Army like last year’s game.

It’s hard not to see why. On a brisk fall afternoon in West Point last year, the defense gave up 56 points to an unranked Army team that had scored only 14 the week before. They had come out with more injuries to their squad than they began with. They had let up over 416 yards rushing, which allowed national media to make a mockery of them.

Yet, in welcoming Army at home this year, the Demon Deacons arguably put together their best performance against the Black Knights in the Dave Clawson era, convincingly winning 45-10.

“They scored 56 on us last year, and to come out here and hold them to 10 points at home, it’s an unbelievable feeling,” said junior linebacker Chase Jones.

One thing proved to be crucial to the defense’s performance — motivation.

“Last year, the offensive guys were happy, and the defensive guys were upset,” said head coach Dave Clawson. “It felt like an offensive win. Tonight, this was a team win. The defense did more than their part and played really well.”

“In that locker room, we definitely felt like we had beat Army,” said freshman linebacker Dylan Hazen.

Another significant difference between last year’s shootout and this year’s lockdown was the defensive game plan schemed by new defensive coordinator Brad Lambert.

“I thought Brad and the whole defensive staff put together a great plan,” said Clawson.

“Coach Lambert’s defensive scheme really helped us,” added Hazen.

Lambert – who also served as a linebackers coach and eventually defensive coordinator for the Deacs during the Jim Grobe era – returned after the former Wake Forest defensive coordinator, Lyle Hemphill, accepted a job at Duke.

The defense headlined their performance by holding the Black Knights’ offense scoreless through 13:53 left in the 4th quarter, at which point Army scored its only touchdown of the game.

The defense made an emphasis on gaining possessions for the offense to score. Both Jones and Hazen themselves generated turnovers early in the game, as the former secured a fumble and the latter notched an interception.

“The turnovers in the first half were big,” said Clawson. “Those stopped two drives.”

In that locker room, we definitely felt like we had beat Army.

— Dylan Hazen ('26), linebacker

As much as the defense came up big, the offense played just as well as they have all season, eclipsing the 44-point mark for the fourth time this year.

The offense was led through a balanced attack of rushing and passing, as these yardage totals came out nearly 50/50 at 267 yards passing and 221 yards rushing, respectively. For context, the Deacs had 458 yards passing and 180 yards rushing in the 70-56 shootout last year, with multiple receivers having 140-yard games.

The opening drive for Wake Forest was jump-started by a 46-yard pass up the middle from junior quarterback Sam Hartman to junior A.T. Perry, and the dominant wideout had his way all night, finishing with 118 yards receiving. After a few small gains, junior running back Christian Turner would shuffle through the battle lines to give the Demon Deacons their first score of the day.

After the defense got a stop, sophomore running back Justice Ellison took over for a drive, rushing for three plays of 14 yards or more before rushing in for a three-yard touchdown with 2:20 left to go in the 1st quarter.

When the offense got the ball back again on their own 33-yard line after an Army turnover on downs, they would respond with their only non-scoring drive in the first half, committing a turnover on downs around midfield. It was one of only three non-scoring drives all game for the Wake Forest offense.

After a three and out from Army, Wake Forest would find the end zone yet again, headlined by Ellison and fellow sophomore running back Quinton Cooley, who ran in for a goal-line score to put the Deacons up three scores going into halftime.

The barrage of scores didn’t end there. Within two minutes of the second-half kickoff, Hartman once again found a blazing Perry for a 26-yard touchdown, which tied the wide receiver from Lake Worth, Florida for third in Wake Forest’s all-time touchdowns record. Perry is now four touchdowns away from the record set by Ricky Proehl (1986-89).

After a missed 42-yard field goal by Army kicker Quinn Maretzki, it took only four plays for the Wake Forest offense to come off the field with another seven points. Hartman completed passes to sophomore wideouts Ke’Shawn Williams and Jahmal Banks for 24 and 37 yards, respectively. The drive was capped off with a four-yard touchdown run by Turner, the fourth rushing touchdown of the day for the Deacs and the second for the running back.

After the defense forced yet another three and out, the Demon Deacons went on their sixth scoring drive of the day, as a few runs for short yardage sandwiched a 30-yard pass from Hartman to Perry, but the offense was stopped on 3rd down and sent out kicker Matthew Dennis to convert a 38-yard field goal, his 10th field goal of the season.

The following possession for Army found the end zone for the only time that game, as Black Knights quarterback Jemel Jones found a gap and ran for 25 yards before going through the air and finding receiver Isaiah Alston for a 20-yard touchdown. Alston would finish with seven receptions for 123 yards.

Midway through the fourth quarter, Wake Forest trotted out a squad of experienced reserves, led by freshman Mitch Griffis. Griffis, who threw for 288 yards earlier this season in a start versus VMI, ran a few times for short gains before finding true freshman receiver Wesley Grimes in the back of the endzone for the Demon Deacons’ sixth and final touchdown of the day.

The game’s final points went to Army on the ensuing drive, as the Black Knights were able to convert a 33-yard field goal following a 67-yard pass from Jones to Alston.

With this convincing win, the Demon Deacons moved to 5-1 on the season and 3-1 at home. They have climbed to No. 14 in the AP Poll during their off week. Wake Forest will return to Truist Field on Oct. 22 to play Boston College to begin a six-week stretch of ACC games.