Blue Devils take the Demon Deacons to the darkest depths

Sam Hartman ties ACC career record, but a late touchdown sent Duke over Wake Forest


Courtesy of Wake Forest Athletics

Wake Forest’s defensive line tries to break through to the Duke quarterback.

Ian Steffensen, Sports Editor

In its final football game of the regular season, Wake Forest came up short when it mattered in a 34-31 loss to Duke. Despite three touchdown passes from QB Sam Hartman — tying the ACC record for career passing TDs — the Demon Deacons couldn’t get the job done. It was Wake Forest’s fourth loss in its last five games, and the Demon Deacons end the season with a 7-5 record as they await their bowl invitation.
“Our inability to execute in the fourth quarter to win close games [is why we ended 7-5 and not 11-1],” said Head Coach Dave Clawson after the loss. “If we had better execution in four games, [we might have won], and last year those were games we won.This year we didn’t. Our fourth quarter execution was poor.”
The game was a quarterback duel, as both Hartman and Duke QB Riley Leonard combined for seven touchdowns. Leonard threw for a career-best 391 yards and four touchdowns as he attacked Wake Forest’s weak man-to-man coverage. The secondary has been a problem for the Demon Deacons all season long. Several of Leonard’s passes were deep balls, where Wake Forest’s corners were beaten on contested catches. Each of Leonard’s four touchdown passes came on deep balls. Perimeter defense wasn’t the only problem for the Demon Deacons, as the defense as a whole couldn’t stop the Blue Devils on third down. While Duke only converted 6-13 on their third downs, when it truly mattered, they were able to extend their drives and put points on the board.
The Blue Devils got their first touchdown of the day on a 3rd and 7 play, with Leonard hitting receiver Sahmir Hagans across the middle, Hagans extended the play and ran through the Demon Deacon defense for the 30-yard score. And later on in the half, on 3rd and 8, Leonard found wide Jalon Calhoun for 31 yards to extend the drive which ended up in points to extend the Duke lead to 17. Getting these defense stops early on would have provided the difference in what should not have been so close of a contest.
The passing game returned in full force for the Demon Deacons. In his final regular season game with Wake Forest, Hartman completed 26 of 42 passes for 347 yards. To start the fourth, the Demon Deacons trailed by a field goal — 24-27. Hartman led a stellar drive, finding receiver Donovan Greene on the right sideline for 33 yards to put the offense right in the red zone. Soon after, Hartman connected with his favorite target A.T. Perry with a six-yard laser past the defenders for the score and the lead.
The Demon Deacons’ defense finally got its big play in the fourth quarter. Defensive back Jermal Martin Jr. got his first career interception at Wake Forest in one-on-one coverage to stop the Blue Devils’ attack. Wake Forest had a chance to close out the game but could not. On 3rd and 2, Hartman was sacked in the backfield, and the Demon Deacons were forced to hand the ball back to the Blue Devils with two minutes remaining in the contest. It only took two plays for Duke to answer. Leonard found Calhoun with another deep ball for 30 yards to start. Hagans then hauled in a 20-yard pass from Leonard in the right end zone for the game-winning score. Hartman and the offense had around a minute to mount a comeback. Yet, on 4th and 10, with pressure coming Hartman was forced to heave one to Perry who couldn’t hang on and the pass ended up in Duke’s hands putting an end to the contest.
“We came into this year with all these expectations and we had so many guys back,” Clawson said. “Anytime things don’t go well, you have to be self-critical and look in the mirror. There’s some things we would do differently. I’ll have a week to reflect on that.”