"Covers the campus like the magnolias"

Old Gold & Black

'Covers the campus like the magnolias'
"Covers the campus like the magnolias"

Old Gold & Black

"Covers the campus like the magnolias"

Old Gold & Black

Football gets stuck in a valley, loses 17-12 to Clemson

Wake Forest offense fails to take advantage of numerous scoring opportunities
Evan Harris
Wake Forest junior quarterback Mitch Griffis is pressured to pass in Clemson’s redzone.

CLEMSON, S.C. — In years past, Wake Forest might have been content with a five-point road loss to perennial ACC-favorite Clemson but not this year. As the Demon Deacons walked out of Death Valley the losers of a 17-12 defensive showdown, there was palpable frustration. 

“Ten years into this, we’re past moral victories,” said Head Coach Dave Clawson.

There were opportunities for Wake Forest to come away with an actual victory, as the Demon Deacon defense limited Clemson to 338 yards, the Tigers’ lowest total of the year, while forcing five punts, two turnovers and a missed field goal. But like many of the offense’s drives, the visiting team would end up falling short.

“It would be nice to be really good at both sides of the ball in the same year,” Clawson said. “For the first three years here, we were good on defense and struggled on offense, then for six years [offense was good and defense was struggling] — but that’s football.”

Story continues below advertisement

Wake Forest’s offense was not without opportunities, only without results. Four drives started in Clemson territory, including fumbles recovered at the nine- and 31-yard lines, but only three points came out of the advantageous field position. Neither turnover led to a score. 

The Demon Deacons did catch a few lucky breaks, thanks to officiating and replay reviews. Midway through the first quarter, a Clemson scoop-and-score was overturned because Demond Claiborne was ruled down before the ball popped out. In the third quarter, a roughing the passer penalty erased a Mitch Griffis incompletion, allowing for a new set of downs and, subsequently, a Matthew Dennis field goal. The assistance was not enough, however, to lift the offense up, as Wake Forest was held to a season-low of 239 yards.

We came into this game expecting that we [were] going to be able to stop Clemson’s offense because of what we saw from the weeks prior. We didn’t think that there’s anything too special. We knew they had guys, we knew they were talented, but we kept saying all week ‘if we play as a team, we can beat their roster.’

— Dylan Hazen, Linebacker

“That’s obviously disappointing,” Griffis said. “You want to play complimentary football, and that’s how good football teams win. Offense helps out the defense, defense helps out the offense and special teams, you know, everybody’s helping everybody. The defense played great. Obviously, we were playing a really good defense in a tough environment, but that’s no excuse. We still gotta move the ball.”

Wake Forest would not find the endzone until the final two minutes of the game, when Claiborne (19 rush, 60 yards, TD) ran the ball in for a three-yard score to bring the margin within one possession. The Demon Deacons’ two-point attempt was unsuccessful, and the subsequent onside kick was cleanly recovered by Clemson, ending the comeback attempt. 

“Our defense kept us in the game,” Clawson said. “On offense, other than the one turnover, we didn’t beat ourselves. When you go against better competition — we need to get better in the red zone, but we didn’t beat ourselves. We turned it over once. We had opportunities. If we get a few touchdowns in the red zone, maybe it’s a different ball game.”

Early on, completed passes were hard to come by as Griffis (15-for-25, 137 yds, 14 rush, 25 yds) was routinely hit while throwing the ball. Successful runs were also inconsistent as Justice Ellison left the game after twisting his ankle on the very first play from scrimmage, and Claiborne was repeatedly stuffed at the line of scrimmage.

The redshirt sophomore couldn’t connect on his first four passes, including two overthrows to Jahmal Banks (8 rec, 55 yds) in the endzone on third- and fourth-down attempts after Kevin Pointer Jr. (2 tackles) fell on top of a Cade Klubnik (18-for-28, 131 yds, 12 rush, 48 yds, TD) fumble on the Clemson nine-yard line

“I don’t regret the fourth down decision, but if you have the ball inside the five against Clemson, you better score touchdowns,” Clawson said. “You run your best plays, and you don’t want to come away without points.”

Pointer Jr. said it was a little frustrating that the offense could not turn stops into points throughout the afternoon; however, that did not stop the defensive unit from going out each drive with a relentless motor.

“Every time we came back from a three-and-out or anything, we were ready to go back out and do the same thing,” the defensive lineman said. “It was just super encouraging, and it just pumped us up, even if the offense wasn’t getting anything.”

Safety Malik Mustapha (9 tackles) and linebacker Dylan Hazen (8 tackles, TFL) led the way for Brad Lambert’s defense.

“We came into this game expecting that we [were] going to be able to stop Clemson’s offense because of what we saw from the weeks prior,” Hazen said. “We didn’t think that there’s anything too special. We knew they had guys, we knew they were talented, but we kept saying all week ‘if we play as a team, we can beat their roster.’”

Until the last six minutes of the fourth quarter, Wake Forest and Clemson had only combined for 16 points. The defensive showdown was a complete antithesis of last year’s double-overtime shootout in Winston-Salem, which the Tigers won 51-45. And just like previous meetings, it was Clemson who broke through, this time with a one-yard Will Shipley score.

Despite the loss, Clawson was pleased with the way his team performed, especially in this point of the season.

“They made a few more plays than us, but I thought it was a great, great effort by our football team,” Clawson said. “In a lot of ways, I feel better about our team now than I did after any of the wins. Our guys competed for 60 minutes. Our defense is playing at a really high level. I think we gave them everything they could handle.”

He continued: “I feel better right now about our football team than I did the previous four weeks. That includes three wins. Our kids played their butts off. I’m proud of them.”

Wake Forest (3-2, 0-2) travels to Blacksburg, Va. on Saturday, Oct. 14 to take on the Virginia Tech Hokies (2-4, 1-1). Kickoff is set for 3:30 p.m. on the ACC Network.

Leave a Comment
More to Discover
About the Contributor
Cooper Sullivan
Cooper Sullivan, Sports Editor
Cooper Sullivan is a senior from Winston-Salem majoring in Communication with double minors in Journalism and Art History. He enjoys long walks on the beach, dancing like no one is watching and "committing to the bit".

Comments (0)

All Old Gold & Black Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *