“This ain’t the same defense,” said Wake Forest senior defensive end Kyle Wilber, whose team isn’t playing anything like the 2010 Demon Deacons team that finished 3-9, won just one ACC contest and were throttled 31-0 by Florida State.
These Deacs (4-1, 3-0 ACC) forced five turnovers – four interceptions – posted two sacks and recorded a safety in a 35-30 victory over the No. 23-ranked Seminoles on Saturday before an announced crowd of 33,116 at BB&T Field.
Wake, which had started 2-0 seven times in the conference’s 58-year history, starts 3-0 in the ACC for the first time ever.
These Deacs – their confidence surging after four consecutive wins – are 4-1 for the first time since 2008. These Deacs say they are more resilient than what they appeared to be in a season-opening overtime loss to Syracuse.
Once again, as they had in wins over N.C. State and Boston College, the Deacs held on for a closer-than-comfortable victory over the Seminoles. They were outscored 13-10 in the fourth quarter yet eked by with a satisfying result.
“We’re a football team that’s good enough to beat you, but we’re not good enough to get away from you,” Wake coach Jim Grobe said. “I think that’s the situation that we’re going to continue to be in. We’ve had a bunch of games in the past that we’ve had a lead of seven points or less at the start of the fourth quarter. We like to keep things interesting for our fans.”
Holding the Seminoles to a field goal in the third quarter, the Deacs took a commanding 32-17 lead at the start of the fourth quarter as sophomore quarterback Tanner Price capped a nine-play scoring drive with a textbook eight-yard touchdown strike to redshirt junior Terence Davis.
Wake, though, soon found itself barely holding on to its lead in the fourth quarter. And as quickly as it looked out of harm's way, the Seminoles pieced together a two-minute, seven-play drive that ended on a hard three-yard touchdown run by Ty Jones. That drive cut Wake's lead to 32-24 with 12:37 remaining.
Wake responded with a six-minute, 11-play scoring drive that culminated in a 32-yard field goal by kicker Jimmy Newman. They went ahead by 11 points.
Then the Deacs put the game into the hands of its defense, which had tormented Florida State for much of the game with a gambling pass-rush and instinctive coverage.
The Deacs once again made alert plays.
With Florida State driving from its 43, junior quarterback E.J. Manuel hit Jones in the flat, though he didn't get far as Wake cornerback Merrill Noel knocked him down.
With the Deacs pressuring up front – Wilber flying off the edge – the Seminoles committed two key holding penalties that stunted the drive.
On third and 15 from the 38, Manuel tried to throw downfield and his pass was tipped by cornerback A.J. Marshall and redshirt senior free safety Josh Bush pulled down Wake’s fourth interception – and Manuel’s second.
Florida State would score a touchdown with 54 seconds left but it was too little, too late.
“We were tough,” said Wake redshirt junior linebacker Joey Ehrmann, who returned an interception 50 yards in the first quarter and made a tackle for a safety in the third. “We’re finishing off games. Winning is the most important statistic that there is. We’re learning how to win.”
The Deacs held on and now look to Virginia Tech next week.
“Resilient would be a very good word for these guys,” Grobe said.