In a game that was almost the complete opposite of their October 13th matchup, No. 2 Wake dispatched of No. 2 Clemson on home field in a 2-0 victory that could potentially earn them the top ranking in the nation due to No. 1 Pittsburgh cancelling the remainder of their fall regular season games due to Covid-19 complications. The Deacs move to 6-1-0, 4-1-0 in conference, and 2-1-0 against ranked opponents. Clemson falls to 5-2-1, 3-2-1 in conference, and 1-2-1 against ranked opponents. Wake closes out their fall regular season slate against NC State in Raleigh November 7th at 7:00 PM.
Going into the game, the big question was whether or not Wake would be able to play their possession game against a pressing team like Clemson, as in the previous meeting the Tiger press ran roughshod over the Deacs. From the beginning, Wake were able to control possession and the flow of the game. Calvin Harris was nearly able to find Kyle Holcomb for an early breakthrough after a bad Clemson turnover on a ball into the middle of the field. Garrison Tubbs was able to poke the ball forward to create a chance for Kyle Holcomb, but George Marks made the save and Harris was unable to latch onto the rebound.
As the half wore on, however, Clemson grew into the game and the Deacs began to get sloppy with the ball. They nearly opened the scoring when a Charlie Asensio cross found the feet of the even dangerous Grayson Barber, who was able to retain possession despite a tackle from Nico Benalcazar, and put a great shot on goal that Pannenberg was somehow equal too, sprawling low to his left to tip the low shot wide of his post. Barber got a cute backheel on frame on the ensuing corner, but the man at the front post was able to clear it off the line.
Wake fought their way back into the game, however, and nearly opened the scoring through Kyle Holcomb, who tapped a shot on frame from an Omar Hernandez ball across, but Marks was able to latch onto it. Eight minutes later, the Deacs had their opener. Nico Benalcazar received the ball from Garrison Tubbs and carried into deep into the midfield, then finding substitute left back Jahlane Forbes on the wing, who then played the ball back into the box. Benalcazar hit it with the inside of his thigh and walked it in to give the Deacs a one goal lead going into the half.
Although the Deacs looked to be in control before the break, Clemson came out of the interval looking energized and sharp. Kimarni Smith almost scored in a third successive game against Wake when he received a pass from Charlie Asensio inside the left side of the area, cut back across Tubbs and put his right footed effort over the bar on a chance that he should have done much better with. This would be the best chance Clemson would have to get back into the game before Wake would extend their lead.
The Deacs fought their way back into the second half just as they did in the first, with their second goal starting from another great play from a center back. Garrison Tubbs received a ball deep in his own half from Cristian Escribano, then fighting beyond Kimarni Smith to push the ball forward and break up the Clemson press, then finding David Wrona. Wrona held the ball up for a few seconds before passing it to Takuma Suzuki who put a ball over the top to Machop Chol who was streaking down the right flank beyond the Clemson high line. He carried the ball toward the Clemson goal, poking it beyond an onrushing George Marks, before Calvin Harris would tap it in on the goal line to double the advantage.
From that point on, Clemson had to chase the game, and Wake allowed them to for the most part, allowing the Tigers to dictate the game in the final twenty minutes. Clemson would have a couple decent looks at goal that would lead to nothing with 14 minutes to go, with the latter of the two chances requiring a block from Garrison Tubbs. Calvin Harris nearly iced the game a few minutes later but was unable to wriggle out of the grasp three Clemson defenders after finding a big gap through the center of the Tiger defense. Clemson would have a couple more half chances in the final five minutes but didn’t trouble Pannenberg at all with either chance, giving Wake a two goal win and a clean sheet against one of the top 5 programs in the country.
This was a gritty performance for Wake and a much less sloppy, nervous one than the October 13th meeting where the Deacs tasted their only defeat thus far. In this game, in my opinion, the man of the match was very clear. While I think that Takuma Suzuki was excellent, Garrison Tubbs was solid, and Jahlane Forbes had a huge impact on the game from the moment he came on, I think Nico Benalcazar was the best player on the field for the Deacs. He put together an excellent two way performance, showing his ability both as an excellent asset while playing out of the back, and as a defender, containing a very lively Clemson attack for all 90 minutes. While the goal certainly makes his case for man of the match a lot more clear, even ignoring that massive contribution he was excellent all game and deserves all the plaudits in the Deacs’ biggest win so far.