The overwhelming sigh of relief inside BB&T Field on Saturday night after the Deacons reached win #6 on the season was unlike anything I’ve felt as a Wake Forest fan. All the frustration, disappointment, and helplessness of the last five years momentarily evaporated into thin air as Josh Banks completed Wake Forest’s 27-20 comeback victory over UVA with a game-clinching sack in the closing moments. It’s almost a curse that even though the odds were heavily in the Deacons’ favor with a mere 13 seconds to go, I wasn’t remotely comfortable that the game was over.
How could you blame me? Too much has gone just perfectly wrong in recent years to possibly feel as though a Wake Forest win is ever truly locked up. Times like throwing four interceptions to blow a prime upset chance against a Lamar Jackson led Louisville at home last year. Or watching a UVA role player hit a bank 3 as time expires to put the nail in the Deacons’ basketball season last January. Even having one of the most dominant Wake Forest sports teams of this century (Men’s Soccer 2015) lose on a fluke OT goal to Stanford to end their NCAA title bid three rounds too early. As a Wake Forest supporter, we’ve become far too comfortable with the pain of being a sports fan, while the incredible moments, the flashes that remind you why you’re a fan in the first place, stay more elusive than what seems remotely fair.
End of the third quarter, Virginia holds a 20-17 lead over the Demon Deacons. pic.twitter.com/e5Tzd7NrUm— Wake Forest Football (@WakeFB) November 5, 2016
And that’s why this past weekend at approximately 6:19 PM everything felt so perfect. That’s why I’ve watched the locker-room celebration posted on Twitter over 50x between Saturday evening and 10 minutes ago and smile bigger each and every time. What happened this weekend was the complete opposite of everything we’ve unfortunately gotten to know so well in recent seasons and it couldn’t have been a more appropriate way to become bowl eligible.
After jumping out to a 17-6 lead and taking full control of the game by half, small Wake mistakes and some stellar plays by the Cavaliers put the Deacs in an extremely vulnerable position down 20-17 with just 15 minutes to go. In fact, Wake’s win probability dropped from 88.1% at the break to just 39.4% moments into the 4th quarter, though in the eyes of many Deacon fans at the time that latter percentage might’ve seemed optimistically high.
Not only would Wake have to reverse the momentum and come from behind to win, they’d have to do it with an offense that struggled to move the ball in the 2nd half and looked lost as to how to break down the UVA defense. It was almost as if the night was going in the same exact direction all Wake Forest games have gone since 2011, and then in a split second everything changed. A huge INT by Cameron Glenn just moments later put the Deacs back in field goal range and on the front foot. Seven plays after the pick, the miracle play we’ve all been waiting far too long for had finally arrived.
Words don’t do the “Pick-6, Win 6” justice for a long-suffering fan base that almost convinced itself it wasn’t supposed to feel this good about Wake Forest sports. This year’s senior class was set to be one of the few in the last fifty years to never see a bowl or NCAA tournament appearance. There’s practically a full student body generation that has been self-taught to rarely get their hopes up because it usually leads to unnecessary frustration. And yet all throughout the night I was receiving text messages from friends asking me if I wanted to go roll the quad with them. Each time I said yes, and each time the joy on students’ faces you never thought you’d see this happy about Wake Forest sports was beyond jubilation.
The way Saturday night ended with a season-changing play that Wake fans have watched go against them for so many years could not have been more perfect for a program looking to change long-lasting perceptions. It was monumental not just for what it means to the young men who worked so hard to get to this point, but to the loyal Mother So Dear fan base as well. Us Deacon fans simply needed the pride we feel every time we put on the Black and Gold to be confirmed with a sense of comfort that things CAN in fact go our way sometimes in big moments. Of course, that comfort level over the years inevitably varies as programs change and players come and go...
But for now, the ambiguity of the future and the pain of the past can fade to the background as we all come together to enjoy the one thing we’ve truly wanted for so long: Hope.