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Wake Forest Football: Game-Changing Plays of the 2016 Season

What were the biggest moments of the Deacs’ 7 wins this season?

NCAA Football: Virginia at Wake Forest Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been almost 72 hours since the 2016 Demon Deacon football season came to a close, and I don’t think anyone reading this is complaining about the finish. A thrilling 34-26 upset over #23 Temple was just one of seven Wake Forest victories that gave the program its first winning season since 2008. When reflecting on the year yesterday afternoon, I began to think of some of the plays that had a massive impact on the Deacs turning things around in 2016 and setting up the thrill that happened Tuesday night at the final whistle.

Each game had its own mini-moments that put Wake Forest in a position to win and added up to this season ultimately being a success. I decided those moments needed to be remembered in some way, and thus chose to put together this collection of some of the season’s highlights. Here are the 7 Game-Changing moments from each of the Demon Deacons’ victories that should stay with you whenever you look back on the 2016 Wake Forest football team.

Game: Wake Forest vs. Tulane

Final Score: Deacs 7-3

Game-Changing Play: Julian Jackson’s 4th Quarter Sack Wraps up Win #1

When the combined score of a game barely reaches double digits, there really aren’t many game-changing plays to choose from. A lot of us might’ve tried to wipe the memory card from Week 1’s pitiful performance against the Green Wave, but at the end of the day, the W was just as important as any of the 5 in the regular season. Some may remember Kendall Hinton’s TD run in the 2nd quarter, but the real game-changing play was Julian Jackson’s sack and forced fumble with 50 seconds to go as Tulane was putting together a threatening 2-minute drill.

After a 17-yard completion put Tulane into Wake territory with just over a minute left, the defense held strong for three straight plays to force a challenging 4th and 10. The next play Jackson recorded the game-clinching sack and the Deacs were in the win column to start the year. Jackson went on to record just seven more tackles the rest of the season, but his impact Week 1 was absolutely vital to the team’s overall accomplishments.

Game: Wake Forest @ Duke

Final Score: Deacs 24-14

Game-Changing Play: Cade Carney Caps off His 3 TD Day in Durham

When you think back to this game, the one highlight that undoubtedly jumps to the front each and every time is Cade Carney’s “hat trick” touchdown. After a 2 yard Daniel Jones rushing TD put Duke back on the front foot midway through the 3rd quarter, Carney flipped the game on its head with a 55 yard run up the middle to give the Deacs a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.

The play itself had one of the biggest pre-4th quarter Game Sim shifts of the year for Wake Forest, changing them from 48.4% underdogs to 69.9% favorites before and after the snap. More importantly, it confirmed to Deacon fans across the nation that they had something special in the highly touted RB from Davidson Day. Carney went on to record six total TDs by the end of the year, but none were arguably as important as this breakthrough moment.

Game: Wake Forest vs. Delaware

Final Score: Deacs 38-21

Game-Changing Play: Matt Colburn’s 1-Yard TD Run Puts Deacs on Front Foot Again

The play amounted a total of 3 feet, but was huge in keeping Wake in control of a game that was on the verge of slipping out of its hands. After two turnovers in a 10 minute span led to easy Delaware touchdowns, the Deacs were about to enter halftime with just a 3 point lead against the FCS opponent. The offense wasn’t exactly instilling confidence in the fanbase that was already skeptical of its ability to move the football after the nightmare in Week 1.

Even worse was the fear that QB Kendall Hinton might be out for the year following an awkward fall just a few plays before the first turnover. However, nerves in the stadium were somewhat eased after a methodical 14 play, 75 yard drive was capped off with a Matt Colburn 1 yard TD run just seconds before the break. The game was the SC native’s best yet in a Demon Deacon uniform, putting up 145 yards from scrimmage and doubling his career TD total. Following the score, the Deacs went on to cruise to a 38-21 victory and improve to 3-0 for the first time since 2008.

Game: Wake Forest @ Indiana

Final Score: Deacs 33-28

Game-Changing Play: Jessie Bates’ Pick 6 to Take the Lead in Bloomington

The IU matchup had more candidates for this award than pretty much every other game this season. John Wolford’s 26-yard pass to Chuck Wade to put the Deacs up 14 gave the Deacs some much-needed confidence heading into halftime. Brad Watson’s pass deflection to force a turnover on downs with just over 3 minutes left was equally as important to the final result. In the end though, it is tough to argue against Jessie Bates’ pick six to put the Deacs up in Bloomington as the game-changing moment in this one.

At the time of the interception, Wake had gone 3 & out three times already in the game and it was a serious question whether they would be able to keep up with IU’s high-octane offense. The play not only gave Wake an unexpected early lead on the road, but was more fuel to Mike Elko’s plan to bring heavy blitzes throughout the game, which led to INT’s three more times over the next 40 minutes. The Jessie Bates legend story was just beginning…

Game: Wake Forest vs Syracuse

Final Score: Deacs 28-9

Game-Changing Play: Amari Henderson’s Red Zone INT Keeps the Deacs Ahead

If you can’t stomach watching ugly football, this game probably wasn’t for you. Four turnovers, 661 punting yards, and four quarters of rainy football later, the Deacs found themselves 5-1 and just a single win away from bowl eligibility. However, that victory was far from a sure thing and was helped largely by a massive Red Zone INT by Amari Henderson in the closing seconds of the first half. Syracuse was well on its way to retaking the lead at the time, driving 63 yards to the Deacs’ 12 prior to the pick that secured Wake’s HT lead. The next 5 Orange drives averaged 9.2 yards per possession and Syracuse never returned to the Red Zone. Talk about a big play.

Game: Wake Forest vs UVA

Final Score: Deacs 27-20

Game-Changing Play: Jessie Bates’ “Pick 6-Win 6”

After failing to get the job done against Army the week before, all the pressure was on Wake Forest to beat UVA prior to back-to-back matchups vs Louisville and Clemson. The last thing the team wanted to to do was make Week 13 a “win or go home” scenario vs Boston College, who very likely would be fighting for their bowl lives as well at 5-6. A less than ideal 3rd quarter which wiped away the Deacs’ 11 point halftime lead set up the play that will be remembered by Wake fans everywhere for years. I call it the “Pick 6-Win 6.” You know how it goes...

Jessie Bates etched his name into Wake Forest folklore by pushing to the background half a decade of pain and unfulfilled expectations with just one play. Rarely in the last 5 years were Wake fans allowed to get their hopes up in games like this, for the possibility it would all come crashing down at the perfect moment had become all too familiar. The play might not have erased five years of disappointment completely, but it gave a sense of hope that things were finally changing for the better.

Note: This was the largest ESPN Game Sim Prediction shift of the entire season. Before the play, Wake had a 48.8% chance to win the game. After? 87.2. #JessieBates4Heisman

Game: Military Bowl- Wake Forest vs. #24 Temple

Final Score: Deacs 34-26

Game-Changing Play: Yarbary & Ejiofor’s 22-Yard Red Zone Sack Holds Temple to 3

To get the Deacs’ first win over a ranked opponent since 2011, a lot of different things had to go Wake’s way. There were plenty of memorable moments throughout the Military Bowl, particularly John Armstrong’s game-changing kick return to give the Deacs much-needed insurance points prior to Temple’s last drive. However, if you think back to the context of the game, there really is one play that stands out.

After a harsh pass interference call on Brad Watson put Temple inside the 6 with just a few minutes to go, the Deacon side of the stadium started to uniformly tense up. If the Owls did go on to score and convert the 2-point conversion, Wake would have to rely on Redshirt Freshman QB Kyle Kearns to either maneuver a successful 2-minute drill against the nation’s #3 defense, or find a way to outlast Temple in OT. Given the fact that Wake had been held scoreless in the 2nd half, the defense needed to come up with a huge play to prevent that type of situation. And they did.

The 22-yard sack by Willie Yarbary and Duke Ejiofor on 2nd and goal all but eliminated Temple’s chances to tie the game on that drive and kept the Deacs in the lead with 4 minutes to go. Given how effectively Phillip Walker and the Owls’ offense had been moving the ball in the 2nd half, I’m not sure the Deacs go on to win this football game if they don’t hold Temple to 3 on this drive. The sack kept Wake Forest in control of a game that was slowly fading away from them after John Wolford’s untimely 2nd half injury. Wake went on to record its first winning season since 2008, the fans stormed the field, and the rest is history. When we look back on this game in 5-10 years and the Wake Forest football program is hopefully fulfilling Dave Clawson’s vision, let’s never forget just how big a moment this play truly was.

Well that’s it for the 2016 Wake Forest Football Game-Changing Plays of the Year. Do you agree with the plays that were selected? Have honorable mention picks? Comment below and let’s get this discussion going. Looking back on it I think we can all agree that it was a great year of Demon Deacon football. Let’s hope next year is just as fun.