SOUTH BEND, IN – Notre Dame was a game Wake Forest likely had circled on its calendars the moment Sam Hartman transferred to the Irish. It also figures that this matchup meant a little something extra to Hartman too — he certainly played like it. In his final home game in South Bend, the former Demon Deacon picked apart Wake Forest with 277 yards, four touchdowns and no turnovers, leading Notre Dame to a 45-7 victory.
Early in the week, Wake Forest head coach Dave Clawson told the media he “think[s] the world of Sam,” and that it’s “weird watching somebody you coached for five years and did so much for your program line up in a different uniform.”
After the game, Clawson gave Hartman due credit for his play, while also nodding to external realities that had him wearing blue and gold.
“He’s a really good player,” Clawson said. “That’s why Notre Dame went and got him. They’re a program that has the ability to go do that. They got themselves a good quarterback. It’s one of the reasons they’re having success this year.
“We saw [Hartman] do that for us for a number of years.”
On the other side, Michael Kern made his first career start for Wake Forest, and at times gave the offense a jolt. The redshirt junior finished the game with 11 completions for 81 yards, no touchdowns or interceptions and a fumble.
“I thought he stabilized us,” Clawson said. “[Notre Dame has] a really good front. I thought they overwhelmed us at times…To me, it seems like the pocket collapsed really quickly on him.”
“It’s hard, but it’s very rewarding to do it with those guys [his teammates]…” Kern later added. “We were bummed we couldn’t get it done…We just continue to fight and I’m just so proud of those guys.”
On the team’s third drive, Wake Forest opened up the playbook, executing two trick plays — wide receiver Jahmal Banks threw a pass and Ke’Shawn Williams looked to throw before running for a big gain, gaining a combined 37 yards. On the ensuing play from scrimmage, Tate Carney rumbled into the end zone from seven yards out to tie the game at seven.
“I thought it loosened up the defense a little bit…” Clawson said. “That’s the most talented defense that we’ve played against. You look at your matchups…and say, ‘if you just go out there and run your base stuff, you’re probably not going to move the ball too much.’ We felt we had to have a couple of trick plays.”
Notre Dame responded with a eight-play, 66-yard touchdown drive to retake the lead, highlighted by a fourth-down completion and 35-yard post-route touchdown. But Wake Forest had the offense humming again — Kern scrambled for 14 yards and added two completions to Horatio Fields.
With 1:35 on the clock, facing fourth-and-three at the Irish 12, Wake Forest elected to kick in an attempt to reduce the deficit to four.
“I thought if we could kick a field goal and make it 14-10, and then you start in the second half with the football, it’s a one score football game,” Clawson said. “This was one of those games that you just wanted to hang in it for as long as you could.”
Matthew Dennis’ attempt came out low and was blocked for his fourth-straight miss.
“The execution of the kick was poor,” Clawson added. “Matthew Dennis has really struggled the last few weeks. The [earlier] extra point was low, the field goal was really low. He’s just, right now, not hitting the ball pure…the kick never got off the ground.
“It’s just a lot of things we’re not doing real well right now. I didn’t think kicking field goals would be one of them after last year and the first half of this year. Sometimes, when it rains, it pours.”
Notre Dame closed the half with a field goal, forced a Kern fumble out of the locker room and scored on the next play. From that point forward, the Deacons would not score another point, and gained 103 yards in five drives.
The final three of Hartman’s four touchdown passes all came on explosive plays — a 35-yarder to Tobias Merriweather, 19 yards to Eli Raridon and 48 to Jaden Greathouse. In relief of Hartman, backup quarterback Steve Angeli also tossed a 17-yard score to Jordan Faison.
“Not very detailed today,” safety Malik Mustapha said. “[We] took some gambles, some technique issues in man coverage and…good teams are going to capitalize off our errors. Not the best day for us in the secondary. Something that we got to clean up.”
In total, Notre Dame completed eight passes of 15 or more yards, totaling 190. Wake Forest was without starting defensive back DeShawn Jones and lost their other starter, Caelen Carson midway through the game.
In addition, Wake Forest gave up a onside kick with Notre Dame already leading 24-7 in the third quarter. According to Clawson, the team had practiced that exact play on Thursday after seeing it on film.
“I guess it doesn’t matter if you get to the game and you can’t carry it over,” he said. “Doesn’t matter what you did in practice. Obviously, that’s a little bit of a recurring theme for us this year.”
With the loss, the Deacs drop to 4-7 and fall out of traditional bowl contention. But, with projections of there being more bowl spots than those eligible, Wake Forest has a chance of making a postseason game off its APR (academic progress rate) if it were to defeat Syracuse next week. The Deacs are tied for eighth out of all FBS teams in the rating.
That fact leaves something on the table. Next week’s game could mean more than just being the last of the regular season.
“I think we just need to focus on the next week, keeping these guys together and try to go up to Syracuse and find a way to win a football game,” Clawson said. “If we can go up and win it…and that’s the end of the season, at least we finish on a strong note. And if things break our way…we’ll take that as it comes.”