WINSTON-SALEM, NC – The drive was built for a storybook ending — 40 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter, trailing by three, first-time starting quarterback under center. 33 ticks later, Santino Marucci rocketed a game-winning pass into the end zone, stealing the 21-17 win away from Pitt.
Minutes prior, it couldn’t have been further from the storybook ending for Marucci. Faced with a potential game-winning drive with 1:30 on the clock, he threw an interception. Pitt players raced down the field in celebration. It felt like another moment where Wake Forest was close, but didn’t do enough.
But the Panthers were only able to melt off 23 seconds.
“That play happened, there was still time on the clock and it was just on to the next play,” Marucci said. “[Pitt was] in a bad spot and our defense capitalized on it. The game’s not over until there’s zero on the clock.”
The Deacs had a second chance. Left with a fourth-and-one, they took it, going for the win with a 24-yard pass to Ke’Shawn Williams. Two plays later, Marucci perfectly placed a 15-yarder into the hands of tight end Cam Hite to pull off the miraculous finish.
RAH, RAH, WAKE FOREST, RAH! pic.twitter.com/Tw9XAvx87f— Wake Forest Football (@WakeFB) October 21, 2023
“We have a lot of playmakers around the field and I just had to put the ball in a place that they can go make a play,” Marucci said. “Hats off to Cam, our offensive line, running backs. They did it. I just gave them a chance.”
Wake Forest, for all its struggles, found its way on offense in the fourth quarter. With three minutes left, running back Demond Claiborne broke free for a 42-yard touchdown — his second of the day — to give the Deacs their first lead of the game. But Pitt hit right back, carving through the Wake Forest defense with deep passes, including a 22-yarder for the score.
Marucci’s journey to that final drive was trying. The redshirt sophomore entered Wake Forest as a quarterback recruit before switching to running back and safety. But, when two quarterbacks transferred out of the program, Marucci was back under center, waiting and ready.
“At the end of the day, just put your head down and keep on working,” Marucci said. “Those three years have gotten me to this point. I’m just so thankful for all our coaches and all the players that have supported me throughout this week and brought me in as one of their own. I just can’t give enough thanks to everyone that was a part of this.”
“He’s had some ups and downs in his career,” Hite added. “But that guy [has] come to work every day. He’s a team player. He had a great week of practice and preparation, and the guys rallied around him. He had a great game.”
Though three weeks instead of three years, Wake Forest’s tumultuous path to this game was a downward spiral. In three-straight losses, the Deacs looked lackluster on offense. At times it was hard to see football that could win. But they were resilient. Wake Forest never gave up.
“I’m just really, really proud of our team,” Dave Clawson said. “You go through three weeks, like we have, it’s easy to go out there and be a no show. But our kids fight, and they play with great effort, and that gives us a chance. I don’t know if I’ve ever been more proud of a football team.”
The locker room after the game reflected the work the team, from players to coaches to everyone in-between, put into righting the season.
“That locker room was magical for sure,” Claiborne said. “That’s the most fun I’ve had in the locker room. These last three games have been hard, but…seeing the emotion on Coach Clawson’s face after getting that win, it shows that we have a coach that really does care about us and cares about this program. It was an honor to even be in it with those guys. So I wouldn’t trade that for nothing.”
Now, though, it’s about saving the season even further. Wake Forest’s goals are still ahead of them. The win gives the team the chance to chase them.
“We’d like to keep the bowl streak alive, we want to have a winning season,” Clawson said. [If] you’re three and four with Florida State coming in, things get pretty dicey. [The win] keeps our season alive and a lot of our goals. More than anything, it keeps us going. Every week, you’re trying to create a moment. And we created a moment tonight that those guys will never forget.”