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September 12, 2009

Impressive comeback tops Cardinal 24-17

With an 11 play, 91 yard drive in the final four minutes of the game, the Wake Forest Demon Deacons pulled out an improbable comeback against the Stanford Cardinal. After falling behind 17-3 at halftime, Wake's defense pitched a second half shutout while the offense scored 21 unanswered points on the way to the victory. The win evens Wake Forest's record at 1-1.

The beginning of the game was eerily reminiscent of the first of the loss against Baylor in week one. Stanford drove the length of the field on their opening drive for a touchdown behind the throwing arm of redshirt freshman Andrew Luck, making the Wake defense look fairly incompetent along the way. Wake responded immediately by driving down to the Stanford five yard line, but stalled and kicked a field goal.

With Wake's defense continuing to struggle mightily throughout the first half, Stanford drove for another touchdown to start the second quarter to take a 14-3 lead. Wake tried to draw closer late in the quarter when the Deacon defense finally forced a Stanford punt, however Shane Popham's 33 yard field goal attempt was just wide left, hitting the upright. Stanford took advantage by driving 44 yards and hitting an impressive 54 yard field goal off the leg of Nate Whitaker, tying a BB&T field record for longest field goal.

"We were really upset at halftime," said Wake Forest head coach Jim Grobe. "We're young, we're inexperienced, all those type things. But the excuses run out after awhile. As far as halves go, it may have been one of our worst."

"I thought defensively in the first half we were just playing patty cake. We looked like we were afraid to rush, afraid to hit our gaps," explained Grobe.

The defense gave up 275 yards of offense in the half, missing tackles and leaving receivers wide open. The only bright spot was a Kenny Okoro interception, the first of his career and the first of the season for the Deacs.

The offense was nearly successful on several occasions, but couldn't string quality plays together quite enough to put more points on the board.

"We shot ourselves in the foot a couple of times in the first half," said Grobe. "We had drives going but they petered out and we didn't get anything out of them. We really felt like our offensive line was OK, we just weren't taking advantage of opportunities."

Down 17-3 at half time Wake looked well on their way to their second straight loss to open the season. Wake's coaches and players, however, weren't ready to roll over quite yet. After Wake had to punt on their opening drive of the second half, Wake's defense forced their first three-and-out of the game.

When the offense got the ball back it only took them 4:38 and 9 plays to go 72 yards down the field for a Mike Rinfrette touchdown, his second of the season. On the drive Josh Adams had two runs of 10-plus yards and Chris Givens had 17 yard run of his own.

Stanford threatened on their ensuing drive, but a missed 44 yard field goal attempt gave Wake the ball back once again and kept the momentum on their side. Wake drove down to the Stanford nine yard line, but stalled briefly to bring up a fourth down and four situation. Grobe and his coaching staff decided to go for the endzone instead of kicking the field goal.

"If we hadn't missed a field goal earlier I think we might have kicked the field goal. As a coach you just try to get a feel of who's doing what best, and at that point you worry about confidence and so you think we're in good field position if we didn't come up with the down and distance and they have a long way to go if we didn't get it. I thought a missed field goal would have been more demoralizing to us than if we didn't get the first down."

Riley Skinner bought himself time and scrambled right, finding Jordan Williams all by himself at the back of the endzone for a game-tying touchdown catch.

After having a bit of a rough game in week one with a fumble and a drop that cost Wake an interception, Williams was very happy to have the chance to redeem himself.

"Oh, it was great! I was asking Coach Lobo to run that play. I was like, 'Just give it a shot.'"

It was the first time all season that Wake had been tied with their opponent after the first drive of a game. Wake's young defense, which had already played a good a much better second half and, kept the momentum rolling, stopping Stanford on two consecutive drives and forcing punts. Stanford also shot themselves in the foot with a couple of costly penalties.

Wake took over with 3:49 on the clock at their own nine yard line. Skinner was the star of the drive, first pulling the ball on an option and rushing 12 yards for a first down, and then completing four straight passing attempts for 65 yards down to the Stanford two yard line.

The highlight was a 44 yard completion to redshirt freshman Lovell Jackson, who only moved to receiver three weeks ago after the Terrence Davis injury. This was the first game Jackson had ever played in, and it was his first career catch. He blew past the entire Stanford defense, and made a bit of a bobbling catch at the two yard line as the ball came in slightly underthrown.

It took three more plays for Wake to make it into the endzone, but Riley Skinner snuck in through the pile with only two seconds on the clock to take a 24-17 lead.

Stanford attempted seven laterals on the ensuing kickoff, but kicker Cline Beam finally made the tackle at about midfield (although he received no official credit, it was officially a fumble recovered by Scott Betros). The clock had run out and Wake was victorious, 24-17.

Everyone who played for Wake in the second half stepped up in a big way. Riley Skinner completed eight straight passes to finish the game and didn't throw an interception all day. The offensive line opened holes for the running backs and allowed zero sacks. The defense didn't get a lot of pressure on the quarterback, but they tackled much better and covered receivers more closely than they have at any other point this season.

With a complete team effort, the Deacs pulled out an improbable upset, their first comeback from 14 or more points down since they beat Maryland in overtime in 2007. Riley Skinner set a new school record for career completions with 677, now 12 ahead of the old mark of 665. It was also his seventh career fourth quarter game-winning drive.

Wake moves to 1-1 on the season, and will now begin preparations for the visiting Elon Phoenix next Saturday.


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