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Instant Reaction: #24 Wake Forest Exorcises Demons, Squeaks Past Louisville In 37-34 Shootout

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A game so pulse pounding and back and forth it’s causing me to change formats.

NCAA Football: Louisville at Wake Forest Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Wake Forest was last 5-0 in 2019. They were ranked in the Top 25 then, too. The then #19 Demon Deacons played an INSANE 62-59 game in Winston-Salem, coming up just short after an attempted miracle rally. The team on the other side of the field that day? The Louisville Cardinals. Fast forward two years and some world-altering events later, and the Louisville Cardinals once again had the chance to come into Winston-Salem and knock off the undefeated and ranked Wake Forest Demon Deacons, except this time, the game was almost the inverse of the first. There was a ton of scoring, but it wasn’t the points bonanza that 2019 was. In this game, Wake Forest was up 10 with the ball to start the fourth quarter, and the Deacs had the composure to hold off something of a rally by Louisville, who scored 10 unanswered to tie it up about halfway through the fourth. What followed was utter chaos, as Wake Forest had a solid 4 minute touchdown drive, but a scant 46 seconds later, Louisville used the insane athleticism of Tyler Harrell to tie it back up on a 75-yard touchdown pass on a burner of a run after catch. Wake Forest was unshaken, however, using almost all of the remaining 2:52 on a steady, methodical, 11 play drive to put the fate of the undefeated team on the right foot of birthday boy and Wake Forest legend Nick Sciba, who calmly and effortlessly drilled a 29-yard field goal right down the middle for the final score. Sciba was 3/3 on field goals and a perfect 4/4 on extra points on the day, continuing his absolutely insane stretch of consistency and adding on to his already record-breaking scoring total.

Wake’s offense was extremely solid, tallying 501 total yards on a good split between the air and ground, and going 10-20 on third down and 1-1 on fourth, not to mention of course the 37 points. They weren’t without problems; a couple of costly drops reared their ugly heads at points during the contest, and Sam Hartman threw an absolutely brutal interception at a flex point in the game on an otherwise very solid outing. On the bright side though, Jaquarii Roberson and Taylor Morin had virtually identical amazing outings receiving, with Roberson tallying 6 grabs for 135 yards and Morin pulling in 6 grabs for 122 and one touchdown, including a pretty insane sideline snag that extended a key drive for the Deacs. On the ground, Justice Ellison continued to prove himself a beast, particularly late, racking up 67 yards and one score on 17 carries for a very good average of 4.5 YPC.

The defense was, in many ways, the opposite of the offense. They undoubtedly had big plays, holding Louisville to only 4-11 on third down, with no third down conversions for the Cardinals in the entire second half. That’s nuts. The unfortunate thing though, is Louisville rarely needed third downs at all, with the Wake Forest defense giving up an average of 5.0 yards per rush and an absolutely brutal 11.0 yards per pass, not to mention leaving them literally one yard short of 500 yards of offense themselves. I’ll grant the defense this much: Louisville’s offense is very, very explosive, the Cardinals literally scoring 30+ points every game this season. Still, it was a little discouraging to see the defense give up so many chunk plays. particularly in spots where a defensive stop could have been a huge momentum swing and a spirit breaker for Louisville.

There were two offensive missed opportunities for the Wake Forest offense, though. One was at the very end of the first half (literally down to the last second) wherein the Deacs had to settle for going up 3 rather than 7, and the other being a drop on a deep shot to Jaquarii Roberson. I will give Jaquarii this: it would have been an absolutely INSANE catch, but he definitely almost had it, and it just barely slipped through his hands.

Still, bottom line is, Wake Forest is 5-0 and 3-0 in the ACC, defended their top 25 ranking in the month of October (an unfortunate rarity in recent years) and, frankly speaking, has the inside track to winning the division (or at the very least, is right there with NC State and potentially Boston College). The key difference is that Wake toppled Florida State, a tough road opponent in UVA, and now an explosive Louisville, while the Wolfpack admittedly toppled Clemson, but that’s literally the only conference game they’ve played so far, and Boston College, despite being 4-0, hasn’t played a conference game yet. Boston College plays Clemson later tonight as of this writing, and then next week, NC State and BC face off. If Wake Forest can defeat Syracuse next week, then I think the Atlantic will really start to take shape within the next couple of weeks. I’ll give NC State that they knocked off the biggest dog in the yard, but Wake Forest has the largest, most impressive body of work so far in the division.

We’ll see what happens, y’all, but it’s damn near a guarantee Wake Forest will go bowling for the sixth season in a row for the first time in school history (I wouldn’t fault you for wanting to put an asterisk next to last season, but Dave Clawson is still having unquestionably the best run in Wake Forest football history, and there’s very little reason to think that’ll change). The question isn’t so much if we’ll go bowling, but where. What a game, and happy birthday to Nick Sciba. Absolute legend.

On to the next. Go Deacs.

—SF