By Rick Bonnell
Updated 8:12 p.m.
WINSTON-SALEM -- This started nothing like the greatest day of Wake Forest wide receiver Chris Givens’ college-football career.
Hacking and wheezing constantly, he’d kept his roommate up all night. He awoke with a splitting headache, and by kickoff against Maryland, “I couldn’t run two plays without being out of breath.’’
And yet Givens was the Deacon who sucked all the air out of Maryland. He finished with career-best 191 yards off eight catches, including a 35-yard touchdown in the second half of a 31-10 blowout at BB&T Field.
Wake Forest is bowl-eligible for the first time in three seasons. The Deacons broke a 3-game losing streak to finally reach 6-5. There was tension all week, with coach Jim Grobe describing himself as “miserable’’ as he’s ever been in practice.
So the defense responded by holding the Terps (2-9, 1-6 in the ACC) scoreless in four trips to the red zone. And Givens kept moving the chains with six catches of 14 or more yards, including a 64-yarder that helped break a 7-7 halftime tie.
Givens broke Ricky Proehl’s single-season school record for receiving yards. He’s at 1,207 for the season with a home game left against Vanderbilt. Proehl, the former Carolina Panther, had 1,053 in 1989.
Givens used to be a pain to coach -- self-absorbed and high-maintenance. Grobe said it used to be “the Chris Givens Show -- me-me-me,’’ but Givens has evolved into a team-oriented gamer this season.
“In the past, we might not have gotten that gritty kind of play out of him’’ when he was sick, Grobe said. “In the first quarter, he was having some real problems (physically), so it was really fun to watch him overcome.’’
Givens said he suffered an Anterior Cruciate Ligament injury in high school, and after that, “I said I’d never miss another game again. If I can walk and run, I’m going to play.’’
With Givens catching the ball and senior tailback Brandon Pendergrass gaining 125 yards on 26 carries, all five of Wake’s scoring drives Saturday covered 72 or more yards. By contrast, the Terps never scored off four possessions inside the Deacons’ 20-yard line.
Some of that was happenstance -- you can’t count on Maryland placekicker Nick Ferrera missing two field goals of 36 or less yards -- but the Deacons overcame a bad snap on a punt that gave the Terps possession 11 yards from the end zone. Maryland gained two yards in four plays before turning over possession.
“Our defense was so pumped-up this week -- we finally played four quarters,’’ said linebacker Kyle Wilber. “The coaches were so tired of us playing good football, but coming up short.’’
In particular, Grobe wanted no part of the stress that would result from having to beat Vanderbilt on the final game of the regular season, with a bowl bid at stake.
“I felt like this was our best opportunity,’’ Grobe said of a Maryland team that had lost six straight. “We certainly didn’t want to be 5-6, trying to get into a bowl game.’’