A pivotal game for any fan (theirs): the Deacs defeat the Seminoles 22-20.
As we inch closer to the end of October, conference play, especially division play, gets even more meaningful.
Consider tonight's game between the Florida State Seminoles (3-3, 2-2) and the Wake Forest Demon Deacons (5-1, 1-1). Both are coming off losses and looking to get on track. For Florida State, it's about keeping their bowl aspirations alive as they essentially have to win 5 of their next 6 to reach the required 6 wins for consideration. As for Wake, it's about starting another winning streak as their 7 game run (including the end of last year) is snapped in a tough 62-59 loss to Louisville.
The Deacon offense (540.5 yards per game) ranks them fourth in the nation for total offense, and the team leads the ACC in total offense, scoring offense (39.7 PPG), and passing offense (331.0 YPG) as they look to limit the defensive and special teams play that impacts their previous game. While the Seminoles have the upper hand in this series as they have won the past 7 games in a row (Wake has not defeated Florida State since their 35-30 win in 2011 at BB&T Field, the site of tonight's game) and are averaging 30 PPG, they are allowing 32.2 PPG.
Clearly, the proverbial adage of "something has to give" is fully applicable for this game.
1st Half: Florida State Seminoles vs Wake Forest Demon Deacons
Sam Hartman draws the start against the Seminoles. With a mix of some key runs and passes, Wake's opening drive is assisted by a targeting penalty by Hamsah Nasirildeen (which leads to his ejection). Capped off by a Nick Sciba (21-yards) field-goal, the Deacs take an early 3-0 lead. On the subsequent drive by the Seminoles, James Blackman targets the Wake secondary on a deep route Essang Bassey's way, but he is more than up to the challenge. In fact, the defense comes out with steady play, including a critical early 4th down stand the stop the 'Noles' momentum.
As usual, leading receiver Sage Surratt makes some key plays, but Wake has to settle for another field goal from 25 yards by Sciba to take a 6-0 lead. While the Wake defense comes up with some holds, a key opportunity to push the lead is taken away; Kendall Hinton's apparent punt return for a touchdown is called back due to an illegal block in the back, and while the team drives into the Red Zone (inside the Florida State 20 yard line), they garner a 25-yard field goal (Sciba) to take a 9-0 lead (with 14:52 left in the 2nd Quarter).
Thanks to Cam Akers making some key runs, and a defensive penalty, Florida State finally hits paydirt (via an Akers touchdown run of 2 yards) to cut the Wake lead to 9-7. Wake responds on their next drive to push the lead to a 12-7 margin (a 27-yard field goal by Sciba, his 4th of the game), and the defense stands firm with an interception by Chase Monroe. However, with the offense unable to score a touchdown in key Red Zone possessions, Blackman and the offense are able to put together some key plays late in the 2nd Quarter leading to a touchdown pass to Akers (a 19-yard reception) to put the Seminoles up 14-12 at the half.
2nd Half: Florida State Seminoles vs Wake Forest Demon Deacons
Florida State starts with the ball for the 3rd Quarter. Led by the rushing of Cam Akers, the Seminoles are able to move deep into Wake's territory. However, Wake's defense forces a fumble (their 2nd forced turnover of the game) to keep the team within striking distance.
The gradual rain begins to play a factor as neither team is consistently able to utilize their intermediate to deep (passing) game to their liking. However, a key completion by Hartman to Kendall Hinton provides a spark to the offense and gets them deeper into the Seminoles' territory. The drive is capped off by a 3-yard run by Cade Carney (his 3rd consecutive game scoring a touchdown) at the 14:25 mark of the 4th Quarter as the Deacons are able to retake the lead 19-14.
Florida State responds with some key pickups by Akers on the ground and Gavin through the air. In a steadily driving rain, Blackman is able to connect on a 36-yard completion to Tamorrion Terry at the 11:22 mark to retake the lead (20-19).
After an exchange of stands by both teams' defenses, Wake regains the lead thanks to a 25-yard field goal by Sciba at the 4:18 mark of the 4th Quarter (22-20). And as is the case for this game, the defense is able to make key plays to halt any efforts by Florida State, including a missed 50 yard field goal by Ricky Aguayo (with 2:13 left in the game) which allows Wake to run down the clock, exhaust Florida State's timeouts to by the time they get the ball back (with 35 seconds left in the game), the Deacons' defense is able to shut down any of the offense's efforts.
While the Seminoles have a slight advantage in total offense (449 to 424 yards), Wake's improvement in special teams (allowing 8 yards per punt return and 17 per kickoff) are a stark contrast to the previous week's game (against Louisville). Hartman (308 passing yards) and Surratt (170 receiving yards) pace the Deacons' offense, while Akers (163 rushing yards and 2 touchdowns) and Blackman (280 passing yards and 2 touchdowns) do the same for the Seminoles.
A character win for Wake, as their record improves to 6-1 (and 2-1 in the ACC).
Post-game: Florida State Seminoles vs Wake Forest Demon Deacons
Coach Clawson's remarks to the media are truly a positive eye-opener. As he notes the areas of focus (i.e. improvement of the special teams play, the defense, and an invigorated mindset), he speaks to the team's larger character given the nature of the game (a conference and division game) against an opponent that Wake ends up winning against for the first time since 2011 (click HERE to watch and listen to the interview).
Nick Sciba (5 for 5 for field goals) is among the players who takes time to note how adjustments in the larger preparation by the special teams makes a difference. Along with improved execution, this plays a major part in the team's success as 16 of the team's 22 points (via field goals and one point-after attempt; to watch and listen to the interview, click HERE).
Essang Bassey speaks to the improved focus and preparation of the entire team. Their ability to limit explosive plays (plays of more than 20 yards) and to come out ready to play and get off to a fast start are keys for the team's success (click HERE to watch and listen to the interview).
Wake's next game is November 2nd (TBA) against division and conference rival NC State (at BB&T Field).
Photo credit: Andrew Snorton