Wake's Demonic Day: Deacons take charge early, cruise to 38-10 victory over Rutgers in TaxSlayer Bowl

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  • Sam Hartman
    American football quarterback
  • Riley Skinner
    American football player
Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson (center) and his players celebrate their 38-10 victory over Rutgers in the TaxSlayer Gator Bowl on Friday at TIAA Bank Field.
Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson (center) and his players celebrate their 38-10 victory over Rutgers in the TaxSlayer Gator Bowl on Friday at TIAA Bank Field.

Peahead Walker would be proud.

So would Nick Sacrinty and Dick Brinkley.

Those were the principles for Wake Forest when the Demon Deacons won the inaugural TaxSlayer Gator Bowl in 1946. Sacrinty ran for 188 yards, Brinkley scored two touchdowns and Walker was their coach as they bullied South Carolina 26-14 to begin Jacksonville’s holiday college football tradition.

More: Gene Frenette: Victor at Gator Bowl as much Rutgers as it was Wake Forest

More: TaxSlayer Gator Bowl notebook: Two of the best plays of the game relegated to afterthoughts

Another iteration of Wake Forest football finally matched that victory, 76 years later.

Junior quarterback Sam Hartman threw for 304 yards and three touchdowns, sophomore wide receiver A.T. Perry caught 10 passes for 129 yards and one score and tight end Brandon Chapman made the most of a modest 5 yards in receiving with two TD receptions as the Deacons beat Rutgers, their plucky 11-hour replacement in the game, 38-10 on Thursday in front of 28,508 at TIAA Bank Field in the 77th Gator Bowl.

Wake (11-3) tied the school record for the most victories in one season, matching the 2006 team that also won a big game in Jacksonville – the ACC championship over Georgia Tech, with quarterback Riley Skinner, a Bolles graduate, engineering what had been the best season in school history.

Hartman (23 of 39) will be chasing down Skinner again next season. In addition to becoming only the second Wake quarterback after Skinner to throw for 9,000 career yards (he needed 38, which he got on his third pass of the game), Hartman is well within range of Skinner’s school record of 9,762.

But Hartman wanted to bask in the glory of earning game MVP honors and winning one for the team’s seniors, who lost their last game in 2020 in the Duke’s Mayo Bowl and were coming off a loss to Pittsburgh in the ACC title game.

“I’m just enjoying the moment now,” he said. “Next year is next year. We’re gonna take a little bit longer than 24 hours to enjoy this one. I think it goes back to [the seniors]. This group has been there since I was a freshman, running around at 170 pounds, throwing four picks in a game. They’ve been there with me for everything, the highs and lows and I can’t thank them enough.”

Hartman steered the Deacons to two long touchdown drives on their first two possessions, flipping a 4-yard TD pass to Chapman to cap an 84-yard march and finding Perry for a 28-yard score on third-and-11 to end a 75-yard possession.

Wake Forest tight end Brandon Chapman (23) catches his second touchdown pass of the day from Sam Hartman, with Rutgers linebacker Tyreek Maddox-Williams defending.
Wake Forest tight end Brandon Chapman (23) catches his second touchdown pass of the day from Sam Hartman, with Rutgers linebacker Tyreek Maddox-Williams defending.

The Knights (5-8), who replaced Texas A&M and mobilized their program to play with a week’s notice after the Aggies had to withdraw from the game, wouldn’t go quietly despite not having five starters and throwing together a hurried game plan and practice schedule.

Using five players behind center (on one series Rutgers changed quarterbacks five plays in a row), throwing a variety of Wildcat formations and trick plays at Wake and bringing some heat on Hartman with three sacks, Rutgers scored on Aaron Young’s 4-yard run in the first quarter and Valentino Ambrosio’s 28-yard field goal in the second quarter to pull within 14-10.

They saw some especially good things from quarterback heir apparent Gavin Wimsatt, who completed 7 of 16 passes for 30 yards and gained 34 yards on three carries. Junior Johnny Langan, who played quarterback, running back, wide receiver and tight end during the game, was the losing team MVP with six receptions for 57 yards, six carries for 20 yards and 2 of 2 passing, for 21 yards.

“I’m proud of these young players that stepped up,” said Rutgers coach Greg Schiano. “It was something to see them go out and play with confidence and that’s what I wanted to see. You never know how they’re going to play unless you put them in.”

Wake coach Dave Clawson was positive one of his oldest friends in the coaching business would have some surprises for him – and that the Knights would play hard.

“There’s not a lot of teams that would do that,” Clawson said of Rutgers willing to pull its players and staff in after scattering for Christmas to get ready. “The fact that he chose to play and they wanted to play gives you an idea of the type of program he’s building at Rutgers.”

Clawson, who has an offensive coaching background but was calling the defensive plays after losing defensive coordinator Lyle Hemphill to Duke earlier this month, also backed off some aggressive coverages and blitzes that Rutgers was exploiting, especially on some key third-down conversions.

“I was going to fire out defensive coordinator but that was me so it wasn’t an option,” Clawson said. “I’m running everything I hated so see as an offensive coach and they’re just picking it up. So I kind of backed off and said, ‘let’s play coverage and defend the intermediate routes … and they executed it and did a great job.”

Wake finished with three sacks, six other tackles for losses and interceptions by Gavin Holmes and Zion Keith.

The Deacons offense stalled for the better part of the second and third quarters and Rutgers got tough in the red zone to limit them to three short Nick Sciba field goals and a 23-10 lead entering the fourth quarter.

Hartman tossed another short TD pass to Chapman (who has three touchdowns among 12 receptions this season) from 1 yard out and freshman Justice Ellison (nine carries for 59 yards to lead the Deacons on the ground) scored from 27 yards out to put the exclamation point on the game with 4:15 left.

This article originally appeared on Florida Times-Union: Sam Hartman leads Wake Forest to 38-10 victory over Rutgers in TaxSlayer Bowl

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