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College Football: Wake Forest 12, Clemson 7

By Bret Strelow
bstrelow@salisburypost.com
WINSTON-SALEM ó Wake Forest’s first touchdown in ACC play was enough to give the Demon Deacons their second win against an Atlantic Division rival.
Riley Skinner threw a 7-yard scoring pass to D.J. Boldin with 5:28 remaining, and 21st-ranked Wake escaped with a 12-7 victory against Clemson at BB&T Field on Thursday night.
The Deacs played without injured kicker Sam Swank, who made four field goals in a 12-3 win at Florida State. Redshirt freshman Shane Popham, Swank’s replacement, converted two field goals in four tries to help Wake (4-1, 2-0 ACC) prevail against another division contender.
“A defense can get down on an offense and get down on a kicker, but tonight was a really good example of a team being close and picking each other up,” Wake coach Jim Grobe said.
Wake played turnover-free football 12 days after committing six turnovers in a home loss to Navy. Skinner threw for 186 yards and rushed for a team-leading 73 on 11 carries.
The Deacs took over at their 22-yard line with Clemson (3-3, 1-2) holding a 7-6 edge in the fourth quarter, and Skinner directed a 15-play drive. Boldin hauled in a 28-yard reception on a third-and-24 play from Wake’s 8, and his TD reception ended a 130-minute stretch in which the offense failed to score a touchdown against an ACC foe.
“(Boldin) is our leader right now offensively,” Grobe said. “He’s a tough guy who makes plays. We try to get Riley to deliver the ball to the open receiver, but I think when it gets to be crunch time he knows if he can get it to D.J. Boldin we’ve got a chance.”
Wake held Clemson to 198 yards of offense, and the Tigers finished with 21 yards on 23 rushing attempts. James Davis had 12 carries for a team-leading 25 yards, and C.J. Spiller didn’t return after suffering a leg injury on his second run of the game.
Cullen Harper’s 10-yard touchdown pass to Jacoby Ford with seven seconds left in the third quarter gave Clemson the lead, but Harper threw an interception on the Tigers’ next possession.
With Wake trailing 7-3, senior cornerback Alphonso Smith tied Ronnie Burgess (1981-84) and A.J. Greene (1985-88) for first place in school history by picking off a pass for the 17th time in his career.
Smith’s 9-yard return gave Wake a first down at Clemson’s 16, and Popham made a 32-yard field goal with 12:57 remaining.
“We knew coming into the season the veteran side of the ball for us was the defense,” Grobe said. “Our defense has been really, really good about going out and just trying to play good defense and not worrying about what the offense is doing.”
A groin injury sidelined Swank, and Wake missed his strong leg.
The Deacs reached Clemson’s 5-yard line on each of their first two drives and scored a total of three points.
Wake, which entered the contest with the nation’s 114th-ranked rushing attack, gained 63 yards on its first three carries from a conventional formation. Running back Josh Adams (56 yards) took the first of three consecutive direct snaps with the Deacs facing a first-and-goal from the 1, and they lost a combined 6 yards on three rushes.
Wake holder Ryan McManus mishandled a fourth-down snap and put the ball down late on a 25-yard field goal try. Popham generated no power with an off-balance attempt.
The Deacs had a first-and-goal at Clemson’s 5 on their next series, and they moved nowhere with running back Brandon Pendergrass taking a pair of direct snaps. Popham became the first Wake kicker other than Swank to make a field goal since 2004 when he drilled a 22-yard attempt.
Popham didn’t come close on a 39-yard try late in the first half, and Wake’s offense stayed on the field for a fourth-and-4 play from Clemson’s 30 in the third quarter. A throw from Skinner fell incomplete.
“Bottom line, we just have to get in the end zone,” Skinner said. “Our defense couldn’t give us any more opportunities than they have.”
An inconsistent offense has helped a stingy defense just enough to push Wake to its first 2-0 start in the league since 1987.

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