Nov 27, 2021; Baton Rouge, Louisiana, USA;  Texas A&M Aggies head coach Jimbo Fisher looks on during the first half against the LSU Tigers at Tiger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

Texas A&M out of Gator Bowl due to COVID-19 issues, injuries

No. 25 Texas A&M on Wednesday announced it has opted against competing versus No. 17 Wake Forest in the Gator Bowl, citing a combination of COVID-19 issues as well as injuries.

Gator Bowl officials are seeking a replacement to face the Demon Deacons (10-3) on Dec. 31 in Jacksonville, Fla.

“We are disappointed that Texas A&M University and the Aggie fans will be unable to represent the Southeastern Conference in Jacksonville at this year’s TaxSlayer Gator Bowl game,” Gator Bowl chairman John Duce said in a statement. “However, the health and safety of the student-athletes, coaches and staff remains our primary concern.”

“It is unfortunate, but we just don’t have enough scholarship players available to field a team,” Aggies coach Jimbo Fisher said.

Texas A&M (8-4) began the season by winning seven of its first nine games. It has since dropped two of its last three, including a 27-24 decision to LSU on Nov. 27.

“It is heartbreaking for our players, coaches, staff and fans that we are not able to play in the TaxSlayer Gator Bowl,” Aggies athletic director Ross Bjork said. “Postseason football is the pinnacle of the season and when the opportunity is lost, it hurts on many levels. As we have learned in the last 21 months of this health challenge, the well-being and safety of our student-athletes is paramount.”

In addition, four Texas A&M underclassmen have declared for the NFL Draft and were skipping the game. The list includes guard Kenyon Green, defensive lineman DeMarvin Leal, running back Isaiah Spiller and tight end Jalen Wydermyer. Also, starting quarterback Zach Calzada, who starred in the upset of then-No. 1 Alabama in October, entered the transfer portal.

–Field Level Media

Nov 20, 2021; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA;  Pittsburgh Panthers quarterback Kenny Pickett (8) warms up before the game against the Virginia Cavaliers at Heinz Field. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Stakes high for No. 15 Pittsburgh, No. 16 Wake Forest in ACC title game

There should be no shortage of offense when No. 15 Pittsburgh and No. 16 Wake Forest meet in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game Saturday night in Charlotte, N.C.

So whichever team’s defense figures out how to make an impact might turn out in the best shape in a matchup of 10-2 teams that made rapid rises this season.

Wake Forest is third nationally in scoring at 42.9 points per game. Pittsburgh is next at 42.8. This is the first ACC championship game with two teams averaging more than 40 points apiece.

“I kind of hope that we can get a few stops,” Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson said. “It will be hard.”

The Pittsburgh defense has improved weekly, coach Pat Narduzzi said.

“A lot of points are going to be scored,” Narduzzi said. “We’re going to try to eliminate the scoring (from Wake Forest) and try to score at least one more point than Wake Forest does.”

Pittsburgh has its first 10-win regular season since 1981. Wake Forest has reached a double-digit win total for the second time.

Pittsburgh’s Kenny Pickett was selected as the All-ACC first-team quarterback. Wake Forest’s Sam Hartman was the second-team choice.

“We’ve been saying every week is a championship (and) now we’re finally in the big one,” Pickett said.

With 40 touchdown throws this year, Pickett is one shy of the single-season ACC record held by former Clemson player Deshaun Watson. Teammate Jordan Addison leads the country with 17 touchdown catches.

“It’s not just (Pickett), and he’d probably be the first person to say that,” Clawson said. “But he is certainly the engine that makes them go.”

In the last nine games, Hartman has thrown for 3,020 yards and 28 touchdowns passes.

“Our secondary is going to have to be on their toes,” Narduzzi said. “They’re where they are for a reason. They do it their way. They do it the Wake Forest way.”

Pittsburgh and Wake Forest have met just once previously, the Panthers posting a 34-13 road victory in 2018 to secure the Coastal Division title that day. Pickett threw for three touchdowns in that game.

Wake Forest unseated Clemson as the Atlantic Division representative for the title game. The reason the Demon Deacons, who lost to Clemson just two weeks ago, gained that spot was a one-game difference in the standings on North Carolina State and Clemson. That margin resulted, in part, from Clemson’s loss at Pittsburgh.

Now, the stakes will be even higher.

“You certainly want to appreciate the moment you’re in,” Wake Forest linebacker Luke Masterson said. “But at the same time, you want to take that same approach you’ve taken all year.”

Clawson said having a breakout season was possible when assessing the situation in the preseason. Contending for a championship became a reality.

“That’s the goal every year,” Clawson said. “To have a year like this you have to be a little bit fortunate. That fortune comes in winning close games. I think we won those close games because of our maturity and our ability to execute.”

Wake Forest won in 2006 in its only previous appearance in the ACC title game, defeating Georgia Tech in Jacksonville, Fla. Pittsburgh’s other appearance in the championship game came in 2018, when it lost to Clemson.

Wake Forest played at Charlotte’s Bank of America Stadium with limited capacity to end the 2020 season with a bowl loss to Wisconsin.

–Field Level Media

Nov 6, 2021; Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA; Wake Forest Demon Deacons head coach Dave Clawson reacts in the third quarter at Kenan Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

No. 18 Wake Forest beats Boston College, earns ACC title game berth

Sam Hartman passed for 236 yards and totaled four touchdowns as No. 18 Wake Forest routed Boston College 41-10 on Saturday in Chestnut Hill, Mass. to clinch a berth in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game.

Hartman finished 20 of 32 with three passing TDs while rushing for 51 yards and another score on 11 carries. A.T. Perry made four catches for 81 yards and two touchdowns for the Demon Deacons.

Wake Forest (10-2, 7-1 ACC) won 10 games in the regular season for the second time in program history.

The Demon Deacons will face Pittsburgh (9-2, 6-1) in their first ACC title game appearance since 2006, the second year of the game’s existence. Then-No. 16 Wake Forest defeated Georgia Tech 9-6 to win its first conference championship in 36 years.

Wake Forest would fall to Louisville 24-13 in the 2007 Orange Bowl and had not returned to an ACC title game or won more than nine games since.

Phil Jurkovec was 3-of-11 passing for 19 yards and ran for a team-high 66 yards on 11 carries for Boston College (6-6, 2-6), which dropped back-to-back games and has lost six of its last eight. Pat Garwo III rushed for 65 yards on 11 carries to eclipse 1,000 yards on the season.

The Eagles are bowl eligible for a second straight season under second-year coach Jeff Hafley.

Wake Forest jumped out to a 14-0 lead as Hartman’s 7-yard scoring rush preceded his 33-yard TD toss to Perry late in the first quarter. Jurkovec’s 15-yard touchdown pass to Trae Barry with 41 seconds left in the period pulled the Eagles within 14-7.

Barry was later ruled out early with an ankle injury early in the third quarter.

After each time kicked a field goal, Hartman found Perry for his second TD grab of the day with 10 seconds left before halftime to make it 24-10.

Christian Turner rushed for a 3-yard touchdown late in the third and Hartman tacked on a 2-yard scoring pass to Blake Whiteheart early in the fourth as the Demon Deacons flexed their offensive muscles.

–Field Level Media

Oct 30, 2021; Winston-Salem, North Carolina, USA;  Wake Forest Demon Deacons quarterback Sam Hartman (10) smiles before the game against the Duke Blue Devils at Truist Field. Mandatory Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

Seeking ACC Atlantic title, No. 10 Wake Forest clashes with Clemson

Wake Forest has a chance to clinch its first Atlantic Coast Conference Atlantic Division title since 2006 on Saturday when the 10th-ranked Demon Deacons head on the road to oppose longtime nemesis Clemson.

The Tigers, under coach Dabo Swinney, are 12-0 against the Demon Deacons. The average margin of victory over the past three years was 44.3 points.

“This certainly is a team we’ve struggled against in the past,” Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson said. “We head down to Death Valley to play what’s been the most dominant programs in the ACC and one of the most dominant programs in the country over the last six to eight years.

“Obviously it would be a huge win for our program if we can find a way. They’ve certainly had our number.”

Wake Forest (9-1, 6-0 ACC) has produced some impressive numbers of its own this season. The Demon Deacons have one of highest-scoring offenses in the country, averaging 44.7 points per game — a figure that ranks second nationally only to Ohio State.

Quarterback Sam Hartman has been the catalyst, passing for 3,168 yards and 30 touchdowns against eight interceptions. His passing TD total ranks second in the ACC and eighth nationally.

“Offensively they’re a handful,” Swinney said. “Their quarterback is a savvy, relentless competitor, great leader. Their offensive line has a ton of cohesion and these are the best receivers that we’ve played all year. They lead the country in passes of 30-plus yards.”

Clemson quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei has struggled for much of the season. He has passed for 1,752 yards with eight touchdowns and seven interceptions, and his 107.4 quarterback rating ranks last in the ACC.

The Tigers (7-3, 5-2 ACC) have been riddled with injuries, and that trend continued this week when Swinney announced that wide receiver Justyn Ross would miss the game with a foot injury. Ross is the team’s leading receiver with 46 receptions for 514 yards and three touchdowns.

“We don’t have a single senior starting for us with Ross out, and we only have two juniors starting for us,” Swinney said. “We’re still in a development stage. True freshmen at receiver, a freshman at tight end, a couple of freshman backs and a sophomore back.”

Despite the Tigers’ abundance of youth, they remain in contention for a seventh consecutive ACC championship. To accomplish that, they would have to defeat Wake Forest, then hope the Deacons lose at Boston College in their final game while North Carolina State loses one of its final two games against Syracuse and North Carolina.

Clemson’s defense certainly is capable of doing its job. The Tigers lead the ACC and rank third nationally in scoring defense (15.3 points per game).

“I really think that this has been one of his best coaching jobs,” Clawson said of Swinney. “Sometimes when everything goes your way, things run themselves. This has not been a year when everything bounced their way, and you can tell he’s never lost his team. They’ve gotten better.

“They’ve won three in a row, so they have the longest winning streak in the ACC right now, they’ve won five of their last six. They’re still in the hunt for the ACC Atlantic, so again in my mind, this is another championship game and we’re going to a place where they’ve won 33 games in a row.”

Clemson hasn’t lost a game at Death Valley since a one-point loss to Pitt on Nov. 12, 2016 — a stretch that is the longest active home winning streak in the nation.

“This is a game of strength on strength,” Swinney said. “We’ve been really good on defense, they’ve been really, really good on offense.”

–Field Level Media

Nov 6, 2021; Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA; Wake Forest Demon Deacons wide receiver Jaquarii Roberson (5) catches a touchdown pass as North Carolina Tar Heels defensive backs Trey Morrison (4) and Cam'Ron Kelly (9) defend in the second quarter at Kenan Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

North Carolina upsets No. 9 Wake Forest in shootout

North Carolina rallied from an 18-point, second-half hole Saturday to hand No. 9 Wake Forest its first loss of the season, 58-55, going ahead on Grayson Atkins’ 25-yard field goal with 2:12 to play before Ty Chandler’s fourth touchdown run sealed the victory in Chapel Hill, N.C.

Chandler gained 213 yards on 22 carries, his final points coming on a 50-yard run before Sam Hartman’s fifth touchdown throw for visiting Wake Forest.

North Carolina quarterback Sam Howell ran for two touchdowns and threw for another. He gained 104 yards on the ground on 21 attempts and passed for 216 yards.

Hartman threw for 398 yards and ran for two touchdowns for Wake, but he was intercepted twice. A.T. Perry and Jaquarii Roberson each caught two touchdown passes.

Wake Forest (8-1), which holds a Top 10 ranking for the first time in program history, has scored at least 40 points in six games and had never won more than their first seven games of a season until this year.

This was a non-league game contested between Atlantic Coast Conference members and in-state rivals. The Tar Heels (5-4), who began the season ranked in the Top 10, have surrendered more than 40 points in three straight games.

North Carolina caught up at 48-48 with 10:29 left after Chandler touchdown runs of 13 and 21 yards in a 53-second span.

Wake Forest led 45-27 midway through in the third quarter. Last year, the Tar Heels rallied from 21 down to top the Demon Deacons in an ACC game.

On Saturday, the score was 48-34 after Nick Sciba’s 42-yard field goal late in the third quarter.

Of the game’s first 10 possessions, there were six touchdowns, a field goal, two turnovers and a punt.

Hartman threw three first-half touchdown passes as the Demon Deacons led 31-24 at the break.

Howell ran for first-quarter touchdowns from 18 and 12 yards.

North Carolina lost standout linebacker Jeremiah Gemmel for targeting on the last play of the first quarter. Wake Forest went back ahead on the next play on Hartman’s 15-yard pass to Roberson.

–Field Level Media

Taylor Morin also caught a touchdown pass for Wake Forest.

Oct 23, 2021; West Point, New York, USA; Army Black Knights running back Brandon Walters (11) celebrates after his touchdown against the Wake Forest Demon Deacons  during the first half at Michie Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Danny Wild-USA TODAY Sports

No. 16 Wake Forest outlasts Army 70-56

Sam Hartman threw for five touchdowns and No. 16 Wake Forest finally got some separation to top host Army 70-56 by scoring the third-most points in program history Saturday afternoon at West Point, N.Y.

Hartman also ran for a touchdown while he compiled 458 yards in the air on 23-of-29 passing as Wake Forest rolled up 638 yards of offense.

The teams traded touchdowns into the third quarter before the Demon Deacons (7-0) benefited from Traveon Reed’s 83-yard interception return for a touchdown and a 42-28 lead.
That was the first time that Wake Forest, which never trailed, led by more than seven points.

Wake Forest’s lead was 56-49 with eight minutes left after Army’s Jabari Laws connected with Tyrell Robinson for a 25-yard touchdown play.

Wake Forest responded with Hartman’s 8-yard touchdown run with 6:57 remaining for a 63-49 lead. The Demon Deacons added Justice Ellison’s 46-yard scoring run with 1:48 to go before Army’s final touchdown on Laws’ 39-yard pass to Isaiah Alston.

Three of Hartman’s touchdown passes went to Jaquarii Roberson, with those covering 41, 75 and 2 yards.

Christian Beal-Smith added 71 rushing yards and a touchdown for Wake Forest.

Army (4-3) lost its third straight game despite racking up 595 yards of total offense. Laws was 9-for-11 in the air for 140 yards and three touchdowns.

Tyhier Tyler of Army ran for 104 yards on 15 carries and scored a touchdown, while Robinson gained 98 yards on 11 carries and Anthony Adkins had 93 yards and a touchdown on 10 attempts. Jakobi Buchanan scored on two runs for the Cadets.

Wake Forest, which was coming off an open date since winning in overtime Oct. 9 at Syracuse, surrendered 416 rushing yards to Army’s triple-option attack.

Wake Forest didn’t commit a turnover, while both of Army’s giveaways came in the second half after reaching Wake Forest territory.

The Demon Deacons have won in their last four visits to West Point. This marked the first meeting since Army won a 2016 road matchup.

–Field Level Media

Oct 9, 2021; Syracuse, New York, USA; Wake Forest Demon Deacons wide receiver Jaquarii Roberson (5) catches the ball as Syracuse Orange defensive back Jason Simmons (14) defends during the first half at the Carrier Dome. Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

No. 19 Wake Forest edges Syracuse in overtime

Sam Hartman’s third touchdown pass of the game to A.T. Perry went for 22 yards, giving No. 19 Wake Forest a 40-37 overtime victory against host Syracuse on Saturday.

Wake Forest (6-0, 4-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) is the ACC’s only unbeaten team.

The Orange scored first in overtime on Andre Szmytz’s 38-yard field goal. The Demon Deacons won it on their second play of the extra session.

Syracuse (3-3, 0-2) forced overtime on Garrett Shrader’s 28-yard pass to Sean Tucker with 21 seconds left in regulation.

Christian Beal-Smith ran for a 10-yard touchdown with 3:28 remaining, and the Demon Deacons converted a two-point conversion on Hartman’s pass to Jaquarii Roberson for a 34-27 edge.

Ja’Sir Taylor then recovered a Syracuse fumble, but the Orange got the ball back and moved 94 yards in 11 plays to tie the score.

The Orange had defeated Wake Forest in 2019 in overtime.

Hartman, who threw for 330 yards and the three TDs on Saturday, and Perry connected for two long touchdown plays earlier in the game.

Perry had 137 yards on his three receptions, and Roberson finished with 135 receiving yards on nine catches.

Wake Forest overcame big rushing outings from Shrader (178 yards on 29 carries) and Tucker (153/26). Shrader also threw for two touchdowns.

Syracuse, which lost for the second week in a row, had a chance to expand a one-point lead, but Szmyt missed a 45-yard field-goal attempt with 7:13 left.

Earlier in the half, Hartman’s 69-yard scoring pass to Perry had given the Demon Deacons a 26-21 lead at the 4:32 mark of the third quarter.

Tucker’s 14-yard run enabled the Orange to regain the lead.

Shrader, who gained 111 rushing yards in the first half, ran for a 5-yard touchdown to finish a 10-play drive in the second quarter. He ran for 31 yards on the drive, which resulted in the Orange going up 21-10.

Hartman’s 1-yard run with 48 seconds left in the half closed the gap.

Syracuse had raced to a 14-3 lead, with Shrader’s 24-yard pass to Anthony Queeley coming on the second play of the second quarter. Earlier, Tucker ran 6 yards for the game’s first touchdown.

Wake Forest opened the scoring on Nick Sciba’s 22-yard field goal. The Demon Deacons’ first touchdown came on their fourth possession when Hartman connected with Perry on a 46-yard play.

–Field Level Media

Oct 2, 2021; Winston-Salem, North Carolina, USA;  Wake Forest Demon Deacons quarterback Sam Hartman (10) throws a pass as offensive lineman Zach Tom (50) blocks during the first quarter against the Louisville Cardinals at Truist Field. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Nick Sciba kicks No. 24 Wake Forest past Louisville

Nick Sciba kicked a 29-yard field goal with 22 seconds left to give No. 24 Wake Forest a 37-34 victory over Louisville on Saturday in Winston Salem, N.C.

Sciba’s field goal, his third of the game, ended an 11-play, 60-yard drive. It was Sciba’s 22nd straight successful field-goal attempt.

Sam Hartman threw a 7-yard touchdown pass to A.T. Perry with 3:52 remaining to give the Demon Deacons (5-0, 3-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) a 34-27 advantage.

Louisville (3-2, 1-1) needed just 51 seconds to forge a tie as Malik Cunningham connected with Tyler Harrell for a 75-yard scoring pass.

Hartman finished 23 of 39 for 324 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. His scoring pass to Perry capped an 11-play, 75-yard drive.

Cunningham was 18 of 25 for 286 yards and two touchdowns. He also ran 14 times for 46 yards and two scores.

Louisville pulled within 27-24 when Cunningham and Ahmari Huggins-Bruce teamed on a 10-yard TD pass with 11:25 left. The Cardinals went 72 yards in six plays.

On the ensuing drive, Louisville’s Qwynnterrio Cole intercepted Hartman. That helped set up James Turner’s 46-yard field goal, which tied the score at 27.

After falling behind 17-10 following Cunningham’s 5-yard touchdown run, Wake Forest scored 17 straight points.

Justice Ellison’s 7-yard scoring run gave Wake Forest a 27-17 lead with 3:59 remaining in the third quarter. The TD culminated an 11-play, 66-yard drive.

Hartman completed 12 of 23 for 201 yards to help Wake Forest grab a 20-17 halftime lead. Receivers Jaquarii Roberson and Taylor Morin were the quarterback’s top targets.

Hartman connected with Morin on a 42-yard scoring pass play that allowed the Demon Deacons to tie the score at 17 with 3:51 left in the second quarter.

Sciba then hit a 20-yard field goal as time expired to give Wake Forest the halftime edge.

–Field Level Media

Sep 18, 2021; Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA; Virginia Cavaliers quarterback Brennan Armstrong (5) reacts after throwing a touchdown pass near the end of the second quarter at Kenan Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Virginia aims for rebound performance vs. Wake Forest

It is too soon for one setback to derail Virginia’s plans for the season.

But the Cavaliers would be wise for a strong bounce-back outing when Wake Forest visits for Friday night’s Atlantic Coast Conference game in Charlottesville, Va.

Wake Forest (3-0, 1-0 ACC) certainly has big plans after three convincing outcomes. The Demon Deacons are 3-0 for the fourth time in a six-season stretch.

“We’re going to need more of this as we move forward toward a very good Virginia team,” Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson said.

Virginia (2-1, 0-1) is reeling after a 59-39 setback at No. 21 North Carolina, a result that came despite quarterback Brennan Armstrong’s school-record 554 passing yards Saturday night.

“The clock is ticking,” Cavaliers coach Bronco Mendenhall said. “It’s a fast turnaround.”

Armstrong has thrown for 11 touchdowns with two interceptions this season. He’s the first Virginia quarterback to throw for at least 300 yards in three consecutive games.

“We needed to give him more support defensively,” Mendenhall said.

The problem for Virginia in the North Carolina game was that it allowed 699 yards of total offense.

“Put it behind us and go attack this week,” Virginia linebacker Nick Jackson said.

Yet the Cavaliers, who never before lost an ACC opener under Mendenhall, don’t see all their goals off the board.

“It’s not going to stop us,” Armstrong said. “You can’t dwell on it. It can’t ruin your season. There’s a long, long way to go.”

Wake Forest has already topped two opponents from the state of Virginia, drubbing Old Dominion and Norfolk State before defeating Florida State last week to open ACC play.

Clawson said the Demon Deacons put forth a stellar effort on the defensive side, something that will be needed against a Virginia team that has racked up at least 39 points in each game.

Virginia will have to play the first half versus Wake Forest without safety Coen King, who was ejected in the second half at North Carolina because of targeting. Safety Joey Blount should be available after exiting Saturday night with a collarbone injury, Mendenhall said Monday. However, running back Wayne Taulapapa began the week in the concussion protocol.

Wake Forest kicker Nick Sciba has converted on 16 consecutive field-goal attempts for the longest active mark in the Football Bowl Subdivision. Earlier in his career, he connected on 34 consecutive field goals for an NCAA record.

Wake Forest has won its last four meetings with the Cavaliers, including last season’s 40-23 home result, for its longest winning streak in the series. The Demon Deacons scored the final 17 points of the 2020 matchup. Armstrong didn’t play in that game.

It will be Wake Forest’s second game on a Friday night this season after opening against Old Dominion.

–Field Level Media