Wake's 27-17 Gasparilla Bowl win fueled by game MVP Sam Hartman and a strong 2nd half by the defense
Preview: Wake Forest Demon Deacons (7-5, 3-5 in the ACC) vs Missouri Tigers (6-6, 3-5 in the SEC)
The December 23, 2022 Gasparilla Bowl (6:30pm EST kickoff on ESPN) features two teams with their share of near-misses and more than ready to be on target by closing out their season with a post-season bowl game win.
The Wake Forest Demon Deacons, who are ranked in the top 10 as recently as late October, enter today making their 7th consecutive bowl game appearance and looking to win their second bowl game in a row (after winning the 2021 Gator Bowl). With 3 of their losses by 7 or fewer points, they are looking at "finishing the drill" in tonight's matchup. Quarterback Sam Hartman, who needs one touchdown pass to be the single leader in ACC history for touchdown passes, (3,421 passing yards/63% completion percentage/35 touchdowns and 11 interceptions) leads an offense averaging 36.8 points per game and 447.8 yards per game (total offense). Leading rusher Justice Ellison leads a running back group (643 rushing yards/4.3 yards per carry/5 touchdowns) who is without 2nd leading rusher Christian Turner (transfer portal), and wide receivers AT Perry (980 receiving yards/14 yards per catch/11 touchdowns), Donavon Greene (615 receiving yards/17.1 yards per catch/6 touchdowns), and Jahmal Banks (564 receiving yards/14.5 yards per catch/8 touchdowns) look to put pressure on a Missouri defense allowing 25 points per game (which undoubtedly would be lower if not for allowing a season high total to Tennessee in a 66-24 loss).
Speaking of the Tigers, 4 of their losses are by 7 points or less, including a 4-point loss to #1 Georgia. They look to clinch their first winning season since 2018 as they counter with dual-threat quarterback Brady Cook (2,509 passing yards/65.3% completion percentage/13 touchdowns and 7 interceptions), as he is the team's 2nd leading rusher (547 rushing yards/4.4 yards per carry/6 touchdowns) to team leader Cody Schrader (691 rushing yards/4.4 yards per carry/8 touchdowns). Even though team leading receiver Dominic Lovett enters the transfer portal (and is se to play for the Georgia Bulldogs in 2023), Barrett Bannister (408 receiving yards/11 yards per catch) and Luther Burden III (a team high 6 receiving touchdowns) look to provide a challenge to a Deacon defense allowing 29.3 points per game.
Wake's defensive leaders Ryan Smenda, Jr (linebacker/106 total tackles), Jasheen Davis (defensive end/7 sacks), Chase Jones (linebacker/66 tackles), and Chelen Garnes (safety/66 tackles) look to generate pressure and take advantage of Missouri's -2 turnover ratio. By the same token, safety Jaylon Carlies (72 total tackles and 2 interceptions), linebacker Ty'Ron Hopper (65 total tackles/3 sacks), and defensive tackle Darius Robinson (3.5 sacks) look to slow down the Deacs' offense as this marks the first time 2 "Power 5" conference teams square off against each other in the 15th edition of the bowl game as this is the first appearance for either team in tonight's matchup at Raymond James Stadium.
Game recap: Wake's defense steps up and the Deacs earn a 27-17 win over Missouri
Missouri opens on offense for the 1st quarter/half and subsequently has a 3 and out thanks to a solid run-stop on a 3rd and 1 by Wake linebacker Ryan Smenda, Jr. As a response, a solid series of completions by Sam Hartman to AT Perry and a mix of running plays by Justice Ellison gets Wake in the red zone. A pass interference on the Tigers' Joseph Charleston gives Wake a first and goal at the 6-yard line, and on a 3rd and goal from the 5-yard line, Hartman's touchdown pass to Taylor Morin not only gives the Deacs an early lead (7-0 with 9:43 in the 1st quarter), but gives him 108 career touchdown passes, as he becomes the ACC all-time career passing touchdown record (breaking the previous record held by Clemson's Taj Boyd).
The Tigers would respond with a ball-control oriented drive (13 plays/58 yards/7:57) to setup a 35-yard field goal by Harrison Mevis to make it a 7-3 game with 1:46 left in the 1st quarter.
To open the 2nd quarter, a quarterback pressure by the Deacs' Kobie Turner leads to a sack by Tyler Williams on a critical 3rd down play to halt the Tigers' 3rd possession of the game. At the 10:51 mark of the quarter, a 1-yard touchdown run by Justice Ellison caps off a 3:20 scoring drive to give Wake a 14-3 lead.
Wake's special teams would take advantage of a Missouri miscue, as the inexplicable touching of the football and the Deacs' subsequent fumble recovery leads to the first turnover of the game, giving them the ball at the Tigers' 35-yard line. A key 3rd and 11 reception by AT Perry keeps the drive alive; however, the Tigers' defense would respond as Jaylon Carlies' interception on a 3rd and 8 from their 23-yard line stalls the Deacs' offense. The Missouri offense would march downfield in 7 plays/80 yards, concluding with a 1-yard touchdown pass by Brady Cook to Demariyon Houston to make it a 14-10 game (2:28 left in the 2nd quarter).
Starting with the ball and a 4-point lead to start the 3rd quarter/2nd half, Wake's offense is halted again by the Missouri defense. After another long drive (13 plays for 83 yards/6:22) closed out by a 4-yard touchdown run by Cody Schrader, the Tigers take a 17-14 lead. However, reminiscent of their quick strike offense, Sam Hartman connects with Jahmal Banks, who with a blend of speed and crafty footwork ends up with a 48-yard touchdown reception, allowing the Deacs to retake the lead with 4:29 left in the 3rd quarter (20-17).
In the 4th quarter, the defense for the Deacons steps up, as they limit the Missouri offense with steady pressure and keeping the game at bay (no pun intended) until the offense's game-sealing drive. Taylor Morin's 2nd touchdown catch of the game gives Wake a 27-17 advantage and as a result, wins their second consecutive bowl game.
Post-game: Wake improves to 5-2 in their 7th consecutive bowl appearance with their 27-17 win over Missouri
Wake quarterback Sam Hartman concludes his time with the team not only with a win, but the game MVP award. His 280 yard passing effort (23 for 36 with 3 touchdowns and 1 interception) sets the tone on offense. AT Perry sets a Gasparilla Bowl game record for receptions (11) in his 118 yard effort, and teammates Jahmal Banks (72 receiving yards/1 touchdown) and Taylor Morin (30 receiving yards and 2 touchdowns) augment the 386 total yard effort.
Equally impressive is the defensive effort of the Deacs, as it's arguably one of their more impressive performances of the year. Defensive linesman Tyler Williams (2 sacks), Kobie Turner (4 tackles/1 sack), Rondell Bothroyd (1 sack), and Ryan Smenda, Jr. (11 tackles) lead an impressive effort in holding Missouri to 329 total yards on offense and allowing only 7 points in the second half of the game.
Throughout the post-game press conference, Wake head coach Dave Clawson speaks to his team's focus, including having nearly all players op-in for the bowl game; in his words, opting out is simply something that is not in his team's culture or DNA.
All players speak to the attention to detail, playing for and with each other, along with their individual and collective growth to the point where they not only expect to compete in bowls and beyond, but where the standard is to a point where 8 wins in a season (as they finish 8-5) is not enough, so while feeling good about ending their season with a bowl win, they have more on the horizon they want to accomplish.
Missouri's Brady Cook (29 for 48 for 215 yards and a touchdown, along with 38 yards rushing) and Cody Schrader (13 carries for 54 yards and a touchdown) pace the offense. On defense, Chad Bailey (9 tackles/1.5 sacks), Ty'Ron Hopper (9 tackles), and Jaylon Carlies (9 tackles and 1 interception) lead the effort which falls short, as they will look to the 2023 season to snap their non-winning season streak at 5 seasons.
Notes: All video and photos are recorded by Andrew Snorton. To view the full post-game playlist, click HERE.
To view our entire playlist for the season, click HERE.
For the photos (press box), the top row (left/right) includes the coin toss and Wake on offense during their first scoring drive. The second row (left/right) features Missouri on offense and Wake preparing to take a 14-3 lead. The third row (left/right) shows more of Wake celebrating Justice Ellison's 1-yard score (he has 21 carries for 64 yards and a touchdown), and the bottom row includes Wake driving then celebrating Jahmal Banks' 48-yard touchdown reception to take a 20-17 lead.