Senior Jared Watts scored a goal in the 7th minute and Jacori Hayes and Sean Okoli each tallied in the second half as #20 Wake Forest eased past Virginia Tech to maintain a share of first place in the ACC last night in Spry Stadium.
The game marked the annual Genna Wiley Memorial Match, honoring the late wife of trainer Steve Wiley. A silent auction at the game raised over $2,300 for the Susan G. Komen Foundation as the Deacs wore their alternate pink uniforms to promote breast cancer awareness.
Wake overcame a sloppy performance in the final offensive third with some terrific defending, clutch saves by goalie Andrew Harris, and some errant Hokie shots. The addition of Hayes in the second half proved to be pivotal, as the freshman started the play that ended with his goal in the 70th minute as well as the play that resulted in Okoli's goal shortly thereafter.
Virginia Tech started strong, creating a good early opportunity within 4 minutes as Kai Marshall had a low shot parried aside by Harris.
Wake responded quickly to go on top. In the 7th minute, Ian Harkes shrewdly played a quick restart off a free kick by chipping the ball into the box. Watts ran unmarked behind the defense and flicked the ball over Hokie goalie Kyle Renfro for his second goal of the season.
The rest of the first half was a textbook of how to waste glorious scoring opportunities by both teams. Using its speed advantage on the flanks, Wake wingers Philip Parker and Luca Gimenez, as well as fullback Chris Duvall, were able to get behind the Hokie defense, but were agonizingly unable to connect with Okoli's runs down the middle. Meanwhile, Virginia Tech produced another fine save from Harris in the 35th minute, as Niels Kirch's shot was acrobatically palmed away by the Wake goalie. Virginia Tech also had a golden opportunity to level just before half after an ill-advised Harkes back-pass was intercepted, but David Clemens badly mishit his shot on a 1-v-1 with Harris.
The first portion of the second half featured more of the same: Wake was able to create good chances but unable to convert. Of particular note, Ross Tomaselli matched Clemens' first half error by badly missing from an unmarked position 12 yards out on a cross. Meanwhile, the Hokies began to exert more pressure on the Wake midfield and backline, and on occasion forced Deacon defenders into drastic (but successful) tackles to stop runs.
The substitution of Hayes for Tomaselli in the 63rd minute proved to be a smart one for Wake. Hayes has been used in various roles thus far in the season, but seemed extremely comfortable as a central midfielder capable of pushing forward. He also picked up a bogus yellow card for a 50/50 challenge within three minutes of coming on, which I can only assume made what was to follow even sweeter for him.
In the 70th minute, Hayes was the recipient of poor defending as he glided past several Hokie defenders in the midfield before finding Teddy Mullin on the right wing. Mullin's ball into Okoli caused Renfro to come off his line, but a poor clearance went straight to Hayes at the top of the 18 yard box, who coolly buried the ball in the open net for his first goal as a Deac.
Okoli scored his well-deserved goal six minutes later using the same combination of players. Hayes again ghosted through the Hokie midfield and found a cutting Mullin, who was able to poke the ball past two Hokie defenders to a wide-open Okoli. Okoli's finish into the bottom right corner left Renfro no chance, at which point the only question was whether the Deacs would repeat the debacle of the last 10 minutes of the Virginia game (where a 3-0 lead became 3-2 in the span of 5 minutes or so). Fortunately, even Wake's mass substitutes were able to press the advantage, and Harris was not seriously threatened in the latter part of the match.
Wake improved to 6-2-2 on the season and 4-0-1 in the ACC, keeping pace with Maryland. The loss was the first in five games for the Hokies in ACC play. Wake plays at NC State on Tuesday before returning home to face Clemson on Friday.
Writer's Note: In my UNC recap, I incorrectly credited Andy Lubahn with taking the corner kick that led to the tying goal with 57 seconds left. Michael Gamble actually took the corner kick. My apologies for the mistake.