Maybe I should stop covering Wake Forest University athletic events. Call me Deacon blues.
The first time I covered a Wake game, the UNC-Pembroke men’s basketball team looked primed for an upset against the Demon Deacons at home in a cupcake exhibition game at Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum, but the Deacs pulled it together in the second half. Then, the Stanford Cardinal did indeed upset the top-seed Wake Forest men’s soccer team in the NCAA tournament at W. Dennie Spry Stadium. Perhaps the Syracuse University Orange men’s basketball squad surprised no one when they decimated Wake Forest at LJVM, but still, I was there to witness the slaughter. And I was at the Greensboro Coliseum when the Lady Deacs took the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets down to the wire in the early rounds of the ACC Women’s Basketball Tournament, but a layup rolled out of the basket and cost them a last-second win.
Let’s face it: I bring bad juju.
But the football team’s been on a roll this season.
Wake Forest started the season in a defensive struggle against the Tulane University Pelicans, winning 7-3. A more decisive win at Duke University continued a four-game win streak before the Wolfpack ripped them to shreds at NC State University. A rebound week at home against Syracuse signified a return to fine form until they went down to Tallahassee, where the No. 14 Florida State University Seminoles went on the warpath against the hapless Deacons.
I figured there was no way my presence at the Oct. 29 game at BB&T Field could bring them down. For one thing, it was homecoming and, after all, they were playing Army. An ACC team could take down West Point, right?
Well… problem is, the Black Knights are having one of their best seasons in recent memory, too.
There’s the old cliché of football being like war, and no matter how tired it is, the comparison holds true. It’s a physically brutal sport of conquering territory, crushing blows, precise offensive and defensive strategy and maneuvering.
And the element of surprise always comes into play.
Take, for example, the end of the Deacons’ first drive: A deep pass by quarterback John Wolford intended for tight end Cam Serigne bobbled out of Serigne’s hands, and Army defensive back Rhyan England turned on a dime to pick it out of the air.
An interception isn’t the best way to start off your homecoming.
But the Wake defense made things difficult for the Black Knights from the start.
West Point relied heavily on the run in their first attempt at putting points on the board, and for a while, it worked. But the Deacs eventually had their number, stopping them short of the red zone. And kicker Blake Wilson’s 29-yard field goal attempt went wide.
A close call, for sure. All Wake had to do was shake off the nerves and drive.
Instead, after two short runs and an incomplete pass, the special teams hit the field, and a short punt returned to the Wake Forest 43-yard line left the Deacs defending their own territory.
Not for long, though: Army quarterback Ahmad Bradshaw launched a strike into the end zone for wide receiver Edgar Poe to begin the fall of the house of Deacons.
Still, no big deal. Just one touchdown isn’t too bad, right? Could’ve been worse.
Things didn’t get better.
Wake cornerback John Armstrong returned Army’s punt for a possible touchdown, but a holding penalty wiped that score off the board. Adding insult to injury, the Deacs had to start over at their own 10.
A ray of hope shone down on BB&T Field after Wolford connected with wide receiver Tabari Hines at midfield, driving eight yards into the Black Knights’ territory.
But then that dream crashed down after Army defensive back Elijah Riley picked off another Wolford pass thrown a bit too high.
There’s little more to say than the Deacons could not get started on offense. Those turnovers could’ve been huge plays, but physics and communication were just not in the home team’s favor on this day.
Allow me to say again that Wake’s defense kept them in the game. For over three quarters, the staunch line rushed the pass, consistently shut down the run, landed sacks and forced turnovers, including a brilliant end-zone steal by Deacon safety Jessie Bates III toward the close of the third quarter.
But while the defense pins the opposition, the offense must hold up their end of the bargain, and Wake just couldn’t land the needed coup de grace.
They even led going into the fourth quarter, 10-7, but the exhausted defense allowed Army’s runners to light up the board with two touchdowns.
Wake nailed a 34-yard field goal with 1:25 remaining, but Army secured the onside kick attempt, shoveling dirt onto the Deacons’ nailed-up coffin.
After the clock ran down on Army’s 21-13 victory, a white-haired, bearded man in the Deacon Tower elevator with a beer gut and a hearing aid wearing a West Point hat said, “Feels good to kick some ACC butt,” to no one in particular, his stained grin missing a right canine tooth.