The trick for Dave Clawson a year after ending Wake Forest’s bowl drought wasn’t in maintaining, it was in upping the ante.
Consider the ante upped.
Essang Bassey pulled down Ryan Finley’s pass deep in the end zone, securing a 30-24 win over No. 19 NC State on Saturday night. It was the Demon Deacons’ first regular-season victory over a ranked opponent since 2011 and their first time they’d hit seven wins since ’07.
With Duke — which is 1-6 since its 4-0 start — heading to Winston-Salem next Saturday, Wake Forest has a legitimate shot at a going to a second straight bowl game at 8-4 and equalling that team from 10 years ago in getting to nine wins.
This latest victory — the first over the in-state rival in four games — was a certifiable statement for the Deacons, who put up fights in falling to No. 2 Clemson 28-14 and then-No. 3 Notre Dame 48-37. But it was more of the same as Wake Forest entered Saturday 0-10 against Top-25 teams under Clawson in the regular-season.
Granted, they got over the Top-25 hump vs. No. 24 Temple with a 34-26 win in the Military Bowl, but they had lost those pre-December games by an average of 19.7 points.
Bassey’s threat-ending pick iced it, but Wake Fortes was again fueled by a red-hot John Wolford, who threw for 247 yards and three touchdowns (the last, an 18-yarder with 8:03 to play proved the decisive points).
This was the lowest yardage output from Wolford since he threw for 176 against Appalachian State on Sept. 24, and after a 38-24 loss to Georgia Tech on Oct. 21, he’s averaging 328 yards of offense with 22 total TDs.
As noted by ESPN’s David Hale, Wolford is the only player in the last decade with 3,100 yards, 33 TDs and four or fewer turnovers on the season — and in that aforementioned game against the defending champs, Wolford sat with a left shoulder injury.
Jeremy Brevard Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports