Be a fan: Wake Forest's season opening win against Utah State

This weekend, college football truly gets into full swing. With a myriad of season openers and classics, there's enough on the schedule for fans to get excited about.

On August 30th, the city of Winston-Salem, NC is the site of a truly energizing opener, complete with fan engagement, great action, a little bit of controversy, and a season-opening triumph by the home team.

This is what the game between Utah State and Wake Forest is all about.

Pre-game (Utah State Aggies vs Wake Forest University Demon Deacons).

Both teams enter the game with high expectations.

The visiting Utah State Aggies conclude last season with an 11-2 overall record and a final #22 ranking in the 2018 season ending AP poll, capped off with a 52-13 win over North Texas in the New Mexico Bowl. With an offensive attack that averages (in 2018) a shade under 500 yards per game led by quarterback Jordan Love (who is on the early watch for post-season awards), the team is expected to compete with Mountain West and Mountain Division foe Boise State (as well as West Division teams Fresno State and San Diego State).

The Demon Deacons of Wake Forest University have high expectations as well. The team is coming off their 3rd consecutive bowl game appearance (with wins in 2016 against Temple, 2017 against Texas A&M, and last year's Birmingham Bowl win against Memphis). With 42 returning lettermen and 11 starters, an offense paced by the savvy and leadership of Birmingham Bowl MVP and quarterback Jamie Newman, Cade Carney (RB), as well as defensive players (such as but not limited to) defensive personnel Essang Bassey, Nasir Greer, Ja'Sir Taylor, and Justin Strnad, they are poised to build upon the "Deacon Tough" team mentality and culture.

First half (Utah State Aggies vs Wake Forest University Demon Deacons).

Neither team wastes time making their presence felt.

After receiving the opening kickoff, the Deacs march down the field, including a key 3rd down run by Cade Carney (RB). The drive concludes at the 11:54 mark with a 22-yard touchdown reception by Sage Surratt (who sheds off a likely defensive pass interference call - click HERE to view the scoring play) to start with a 7-0 lead. However, Jordan Love directs the Aggies' offense to tie the game essentially 2 minutes later (09:23 mark) with Gerold Bright's 7-yard touchdown run.

Wake's next two drives put Utah State in a position where they can get a little separation, as a fumble at the Wake 38 yard line and punt provide the Aggies with outstanding field position. However, two consecutive defensive stands, including a stop on a 4th and goal attempt and an interception by Trey Rucker, keep things close, and a field goal by Nick Sciba just before the end of the 1st Quarter (00:27) gives Wake a 10-7 lead.

The 2nd Quarter sees both teams combine for 21 points. Utah State responds literally a minute later (14:11) to take a 14-10 lead thanks to a 27-yard touchdown pass from Love to wideout Jordan Nathan. After a few defensive stops, Newman is able to lead another scoring drive, capped off by a stellar 9-yard touchdown grab by wideout Scotty Washington to retake the lead (17-14 at the 06:27 mark - click HERE to watch the scoring play). Before the end of the first half (00:25), the Aggies add another score as Love throws his 2nd touchdown; this gives them a 21-17 advantage going into halftime as well as preparing to receive the 2nd half opening kickoff.

Halftime.

The opening halftime only adds to the energy and excitement of opening night.

The Winston-Salem State University Rams, more affectionately known as the Red Sea of Sound, provide an added energy, style, and performance synonymous with the excellence of any HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and Universities), including their efforts at the start of the game. Complimented by the Spirit of the Old Gold and Black (the Wake Forest University marching band), it's a truly special experience bringing both communities together (click HERE to view the halftime performance).

Second half (Utah State Aggies vs Wake Forest University Demon Deacons).

Wake gets the scoring started in the second half. A solid offensive run-pass mix results in a 1-yard run by Newman to retake the lead by a 24-21 margin (09:08). However, Utah State responds yet again, as Love connects with Deven Thompkins on a 56-yard strike (05:42) to take a 28-24 lead.

The Deacs nearly strike back thanks to some solid plays with Newman connecting with Washington (who would finish with 4 receptions for 46 yards and a touchdown) and Surratt (who finishes with 7 receptions for 158 yards and a touchdown), but the Aggies' defense thwarts a 4th and Goal from the 1-yard line. However, a key interception by Amari Henderson puts Wake inside the red zone (inside the 20 yard line), and a strong 12-yard run by Christian Beal-Smith (his first career touchdown) hits "pay-dirt" as the Deacs retake the lead at 31-28 (00:49) prior to the start of the 4th Quarter.

And again, Utah State responds.

Paced by Love's passing efforts (33 for 48 for 416 passing yards and 3 touchdowns) along with Warren's efforts running the football (19 carries for 143 yards and a touchdown), Utah State retakes the lead early in the quarter (13:51). Add to the fact that Wake has to use its timeouts on defense to make a "last stand", they regain possession at the 2:19 mark of the quarter.

With the game on the line (and not having any timeouts) and down 35-31, Wake starts at their own 11. An opening completion to Kendall Hinton for 18 yards sets the stage for Surratt, as he rips off a 70-yard reception that is initially ruled a touchdown; however, after official replay (review), the ball is placed at the 1-yard line. Three rushing efforts by Carney (who finishes with 25 carries for 111 yards) are stopped by the Aggies' defense (who also use their timeouts on defense), setting the stage for a 4th and Goal. The Deacs respond thanks to a timely delivery by Newman and a great receiving effort by Hinton (who finishes with 9 receptions for 66 yards) for the go-ahead touchdown and a 38-35 lead (1:08).

Yet again, Utah State responds.

A key completion to Siaosi Mariner (8 receptions for 118 yards and a touchdown) gets the Aggies' to their 49 yard line. Two plays later, a highly controversial targeting call against Wake's Nasir Greer puts the Aggies on the Wake 31-yard line with just over 20 seconds in the game. Just as the Aggies respond to Wake's efforts, the Deacons' defense is able to do the same; on the very next play, Justin Strnad's interception seals a hard-fought season opening win.

Post-game (Utah State Aggies vs Wake Forest University Demon Deacons).

In the post-game, head coach Dave Clawson commends his team for playing hard and competing, but acknowledges there are some areas of improvement (and extended film study) leading into next week's game against Rice University. While there are some instances where the team comes up with big plays, Utah State's 596 total yards on offense (compared to Wake's 579 total yard on offense) is one of a number of things to focus on.

Jamie Newman (click HERE to view his interview - our questions focus on the team resiliency and positives to build upon), Cade Carney, and Essang Bassey (click HERE to view his interview) provide post-game acknowledgements on the themes discussed by their head coach. Likewise, they note how important it is for them to remain Deacon Tough, even through the mishaps and mistakes, as the team's positive frame of mind is integral to their success in their season-opener.

Building on the positives.

And being Deacon Tough.

Additional notes: to find out more about the team and all of the sports teams, visit godeacs.com; likewise, add @wakeFB (Twitter), @wakefootball (Instagram), and Wake Forest Football (Facebook) for updates on the team.

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