College Football: Wake Forest plays in the Orange Bowl tonight

Published 12:00 am Monday, January 1, 2007

By Joedy McCreary

Associated Press

MIAMI — For Wake Forest, the Orange Bowl is shaping up as just the latest in a series of “biggest” games in school history.

No less than three of the Demon Deacons’ previous contests this season could have been labeled the most important in the 105 years of football at the school.

But those victories helped lead up to the school’s first major bowl game, the Orange Bowl against No. 5 Louisville on Tuesday night.

Maybe that’s why some of the 15th-ranked Demon Deacons are downplaying their matchup against the Cardinals: They’re getting used to playing meaningful games.

“We realize this is a real important game for us. but we just try to go in with the mentality that it’s just another game,” receiver Willie Idlette said. “We play hard every game that we go into, and this game will be no different.”

It’s been a season full of important games and landmark victories for the small, private university nestled in central North Carolina.

Among the milestone games that, before this game in south Florida, could have staked a claim as the program’s biggest:

n 30-0 victory over Florida State in Tallahassee that marked the Seminoles’ first shutout loss there in Bobby Bowden’s tenure.

n A 38-24 season-ending win at Maryland which the Demon Deacons clinched the Atlantic Division title and a berth in the ACC title game.

n A 9-6 triumph over Georgia Tech in last month’s ACC championship gave Wake Forest its first conference title since 1970 and sent the Demon Deacons to the Bowl Championship Series.

n And, now, the Orange Bowl. The school’s first game in January since 1949 marks a stunning postseason destination for a team that was picked in the preseason to finish last in its division and lost its starting quarterback and tailback to season-ending injuries in September.

“You can’t really see this as another game, because this is a chance to prove to a lot of people what Wake Forest football can do, our ability to play with anybody in the country,” redshirt freshman quarterback Riley Skinner said.

“And knowing that you’re going to be the only game on in the country, it makes it a little more than just another game,” he added. “Being in the Orange Bowl, being in a BCS game, it’s something that you’ll always watch when you’re younger and think about playing in or dreaming about playing in. It’s here now.”

The Demon Deacons had plenty of time during the past week to relax and enjoy the novelties of South Beach and the sun and surf. Now it’s time to focus on the game.

“It’s really crunch time now,” coach Jim Grobe said. “Five days ago, we were all laughing and giggling and enjoying the experience, but I think the players and the coaches are starting to sense that it’s time to play football.”