Wake pushes back the homecoming party crashing effort of Liberty by a 37-36 score
Preview: Liberty University Flames (2-0, 0-0 ) vs #19 Wake Forest Demon Deacons (2-0, 0-0)
On a beautiful Saturday afternoon in mid-September, it's an ideal way for some college football.
As for the 19th ranked Wake Forest University Demon Deacons, it's about maintaining their business-like approach even with homecoming taking place, as they understand the Liberty Flames are here to do more than just show up and compete; they understand they're here to attempt to crash the party.
Coming in with a 2-0 record (by a combined 9 points), the Flames are more than comfortable in playing close games. While last year's sensation at quarterback, Malik Willis, is now with the NFL's Tennessee Titans, 2022 starting quarterback Kaidon Salter is more than holding his own in leading the offense (350 passing yards, 55.3% completion rate, 2 touchdowns/1 interception, and a team leading 144 rushing yards [averaging 6.3 yards per carry]). Running back Dae Dae Hunter adds to the ground game (126 rushing yards/6.0 yards per carry with 1 touchdown) as Liberty looks to test Wake's rushing defense (allowing an improved 98 yards per game/3.0 yards per carry). Demario Douglas (148 receiving yards/averaging 18.5 yards per catch/2 touchdowns) looks to put pressure on the Deacs' secondary (which is allowing 160.0 yards per game this season). On defense, linebackers Ahmad Walker, Mike Smith Jr., and safety Javon Scruggs (each with 13 tackles) along with defensive end Treshaun Clark (a team leading 1.5 sacks in 2 games) look to attempt to slow down Wake's offense (averaging 478.5 yards per game along with 44.5 points per game).
The return of Sam Hartman at quarterback (300 passing yards in his only game this season/66.7% completion rate/4 touchdowns) provides an added boost to the Deacs' offense. Leading rushers Christian Turner (144 rushing yards/6.0 yards per carry/2 rushing touchdowns) and Justice Ellison (109 rushing yards/4.5 yards per carry) along with Quinton Cooley (85 rushing yards/6.5 yards per carry with a touchdown) look to apply pressure on a Liberty defense allowing a whopping 245.5 yards per game. Receivers A.T. Perry (189 receiving yards/23.6 yards per catch/1 touchdown), Taylor Morin (118 receiving yards/13.1 yards per catch/2 touchdowns), and Donavon Greene (116 receiving yards/12.9 yards per reception) look to test the Flames' pass defense (allowing a miniscule 125.5 yards per game). On defense, defensive linemen Kobie Turner (8 tackles/1 sack), Rondell Bothroyd (8 tackles/1 sack/1 forced fumble), and Kendron Wayman (1.5 sacks) look to put heat on the Liberty offense (averaging 418.5 yards per game and 25 points per game). With defensive back Coby Davis (who returned an interception for a touchdown in the team's 45-25 win at Vanderbilt [September 10th]) out for the season, defensive back Malik Mustapha (8 tackles) is among those expected to stand in the gap to limit Liberty's air attack.
Game recap: the #19 Wake Forest Demon Deacons (3-0, 0-0) defeat the Liberty Flames (2-1, 0-0) 37-36
While Liberty gets the ball to start the game, Wake gets on the scoreboard first thanks to a 33-yard field goal by Matthew Dennis to take an early 3-0 lead (9:16 in the first quarter). In the 2nd quarter, quarterback Sam Hartman's 16-yard touchdown strike to Jahmal Banks would give the Deacs a 10-0.
However, the Flames would not quite go away.
After an exchange of interceptions by both teams, Liberty gets on the board with a 47-yard field goal by Nick Brown to make it a 10-3 game (10:55 in the 2nd quarter). After a field goal by Matthew Dennis (8:39 in the 2nd quarter) to give Wake a 13-3 lead, the defense makes their 2nd interception Kaidon Salter and seems to have momentum. However, the Flames' special teams makes a pivotal play, as they block Ivan Mora's punt to get a safety and cut the deficit to 13-5. Even with Sam Hartman's touchdown pass to Blake Whiteheart to give the Deacs a 20-5 lead, Liberty closes out the first half with a 28-yard field goal by Nick Brown to make it 20-8 going into the half.
In the 3rd quarter, Wake starts with the ball, but Liberty is just getting started in crashing the homecoming party.
After having their running game contained for the first half, a 43-yard scamper by quarterback Kaidon Salter (12:46 in the 3rd quarter) gets the Flames within a touchdown (20-15) and creates another momentum swing. In barely more than 2 minutes later, Dae Dae Hunter breaks loose for a 43-yard touchdown to give the Flames their first lead of the game (21-20) and adds a 2-point conversation to make it a 23-20 game. The Flames' defense gets into the act again as Javon Scruggs' interception of Sam Hartman (his 2nd of the game) stalls the Wake offense and amplifies the clear and present tension in the air.
Wake would have a slight breakthrough early in the 4th quarter with a field goal by Matthew Dennis to tie the game (23-23) with 12:39 left in the game/4th quarter. After the defense forces a turnover, the Deacs retake the lead on a 3-yard touchdown pass by Sam Hartman to Jahmal Banks (their 2nd connection of the game) to retake the lead 30-23 with 9:14 left.
Yet again, Liberty would not go away.
On a 4th and 7 from the Wake 38-yard line, the Flames' quarterback scrambles away from the defensive pressure and delivers a touchdown strike to Demario Douglas to tie the game at 30 with 5:50 left in the game. Subsequently, Wake would respond; thanks to 2 key receptions by Ke'Shawn Williams to give Wake a 1st and goal at the 2-yard line with 3:43 to go, Justice Ellison's 2-yard hard push would lead to the Deacs retaking the lead with 3:39 left in the 4th quarter/game (37-30).
Liberty would respond with a sustained drive, giving them a 4th and 4 at the Wake 18 with 1:20 left in the 4th quarter/game.
And the Flames crash the party yet again.
Kaidon Salter throws the ball into double coverage, yet Demario Douglas snatches the ball away from Wake defensive back Malik Mustapha to get Liberty a touchdown and be within a point of Deacs (37-36). The Deacons' defense would stop the Flames' 2-point conversion effort and subsequently recover the onsides kick with 1:10 left in the 4th quarter/game, escaping with a 37-36 win.
Post-game press conference: Wake Forest improves to 3-0 with another test on the immediate horizon
In the post-game press conference, Coach Clawson notes while the team's fight allows them to win, there are some things to clean up, ranging from the holding penalties to the uncharacteristic turnovers. In fielding our question about the team's preparation of defending against a dual-threat quarterback (Kaidon Salter) along with explosive players at running back and wide receiver (Dae Dae Hunter and Demario Douglas), he commends them for their skills set as being on-par with that within the conference, especially with his comparison of Douglas to former Wake (and now Arizona Cardinals) wideout Greg Dortch.
Wake's Sam Hartman's 325 passing yards (3 touchdowns and 2 interceptions) along with receivers Ke'Shawn Williams (5 receptions for 129 yards) and Jahmal Banks (6 receptions for 55 yards and 2 touchdowns) pace the offense. Their efforts offset a challenging showing by the running game (26 carries for a total of 21 yards) as the team offense 346 total yards (their lowest output of the season) along with committing 2 turnovers. On defense, Malik Mustapha's efforts (13 tackles with 2 sacks and a forced fumble), Chelen Garnes (12 tackles with an interception), and Ryan Smenda, Jr (11 tackles with 0.5 sacks) contribute to a team defensive effort complete with 5 sacks and 4 turnovers (3 interceptions).
Liberty's Kaidor Salter leads an offense which produces 373 total yards. His efforts in the passing game (19/34 for 192 passing yards, along with 2 touchdowns/2 interceptions and 77 rushing yards with a touchdown) put pressure on the Wake defense. Running back Dae Dae Hunter (18 carries for 93 yards and a touchdown) along with Demario Douglas (7 receptions for 124 yards and 2 touchdowns) give the Deacs' defense fits nearly the entire game. On defense, Mike Smith, Jr. (10 tackles), Quinton Reese (6 tackles and an interception), and Ahmad Walker (6 tackles and 2 sacks) keep the Flames within striking distance (click HERE for team and individual stats). However, the 4 turnovers committed along with going 2 for 4 in field goals play a role in tonight's outcome.
Liberty (2-1, 0-0) takes on Akron (at home) on September 24th (time TBA) as they'll look to bounce back from tonight's loss.
As for Wake Forest (3-0, 0-0), their next test is at high noon at home. They'll open up ACC play by hosting the 5th ranked Clemson Tigers (they enter tonight's play at 2-0, 1-0).
Another test as they survive a homecoming "party crashing" effort in tonight's play.
Notes: All media (video and photography) is recorded by Andrew Snorton.
Video 1: The Demon Deacons make their way through the crowd for the Deacon Walk into Truist Field.
Video 2: We capture a compilation of in-game snapshots during the 1st half.
Video 3: We're up close in catching the Deacons' secondary celebrating their 2nd interception of the game; they end up forcing 4 turnovers against a highly competitive Liberty team.
Video 4: Four trailblazers at Wake Forest University are recognized for their transformative work on campus and in the Winston-Salem, NC community as streets on campus are renamed in their honor.
Photo grid row 1 (left to right): The Deacs enter the field, and members of the 1992 Independence Bowl champion team are on field as they celebrate their 30th anniversary of their bowl game win. The row concludes with a snapshot of the Demon Deacon and the Spirit of the Old Gold and Black (marching band) on field.
Photo grid row 2 (left to right): AT Perry (4 receptions for 33 yards) lines up on offense and Sam Hartman directs the Deacs' offense; likewise, the Wake Forest Dance Team keeps the fans engaged in a highly competitive homecoming football game.
Photo grid row 3 (left to right): Liberty quarterback Kaidon Salter keeps the Flames' offense afloat with his efforts; in between snapshots of his play, the Wake defense makes a stop.
Photo grid row 4 (left to right): The Wake secondary gets energized after making their 2nd interception of the first half, and the team defense holds Liberty to a field goal at the end of the first half to give the team a 20-8 advantage. Finally, the 2022 homecoming court takes a bow during halftime.