College Football: Wake Forest 28, Virginia 17
By Mike Cranston
WINSTON-SALEM ó Wake Forest’s defense returned to form, the running game was unleashed and Riley Skinner stayed mistake-free.
Sounds like a formula that could put the Demon Deacons back in the Atlantic Coast Conference title game for the second time in three years.
Brandon Pendergrass rushed for 110 yards and a touchdown, Kevin Patterson returned an interception for another score and Wake Forest surged to the top of the jumbled ACC standings with a 28-17 win over Virginia on Saturday.
The victory left Wake Forest (6-3, 4-2) tied with Florida State atop the Atlantic Division, with Maryland a half-game back. Since the Demon Deacons beat the Seminoles, Wake Forest needs wins over North Carolina State and Boston College and one loss by Maryland in its final three games for another key accomplishment in what’s the best stretch in school history.
“It’d be nice, but we need to beat N.C. State right now,” said Skinner, who tossed two touchdown passes and went a fifth straight game without an interception. “Once you start looking ahead, you start messing up.”
There were few mistakes against the Cavaliers. Behind a dominant defense that forced four turnovers and stymied the league’s most accurate passer, the Demon Deacons built a 28-3 halftime lead to become bowl eligible for the third straight year.
But in a league where all 12 schools are still mathematically alive for a bowl berth, Wake Forest could end up in Tampa, Fla. on Dec. 6 playing for a BCS bowl berth, or home for the holidays.
“You don’t want to spend too much time patting yourself on the back being bowl eligible,” coach Jim Grobe said.
Still, Wake Forest relished the moment of ending the Virginia hex. The Cavaliers had beaten the Deacons in 20 of the last 21 meetings, including 10 straight in Winston-Salem.
The Cavaliers (5-5, 3-3) could have moved into sole possession of first place in the Coastal Division with a win, but didn’t reach the end zone until the fourth quarter and lost its second straight game.
“Between the penalties and the turnovers, we fed the supply line of Wake Forest points ó which is what they’ve done a great job of over the years,” Virginia coach Al Groh said.
Marc Verica, who came in with a 67 percent completion rate, got off to a rough start, completing only 3 of his first 14 passes. His second first-half interception was returned 53 yards by Patterson to make it 28-3 late in the second quarter.
Verica recovered a bit in the second half, throwing TD passes to John Phillips and Kevin Ogletree in the fourth quarter to cut the lead to 28-17. But Verica was picked off by Stanley Arnoux with just over 2 minutes left to end Virginia’s chances.
“I thought we had a couple series that we’re not very good, and I just felt when it got to crunch time our kids would step up,” Grobe said.
Verica finished 23-for-45 for 279 yards, while Cedric Peerman was held to 43 yards rushing and lost a fumble as Virginia fell in Winston-Salem for the first time since 1983, when Groh was leading the Demon Deacons.
“Obviously there are a lot of things that need to be improved upon,” Verica said.
Wake Forest, wearing gold jerseys for the first time since the school moved to Winston-Salem 52 years ago, didn’t take long to excite the homecoming crowd, with tossing a 2-yard TD pass to Ben Wooster on Wake’s opening drive.
Then linebacker Aaron Curry started a string of big defensive plays by stripping Peerman and recovering the fumble. Curry later made a crushing hit on Verica, whose pass popped into the air and was intercepted by defensive tackle Boo Robinson.
That led to Skinner’s 58-yard TD pass to Devon Brown, after safety Byron Glaspy misjudged what he thought would be an interception, only to watch the ball sail over his head to give Wake Forest a 14-0 lead.
“It seems like the ball just carried further than I anticipated,” Glaspy said.
Pendergrass, replacing Josh Adams (ankle) in the backfield for the second straight week, gave Wake Forest’s struggling ground game a boost. His 1-yard TD run capped a nearly 9-minute drive midway through the second quarter for a 21-3 lead.
Wake Forest’s defense, which had a rare bad day a week ago in a 33-30 overtime win over Duke, allowed only 82 yards in the first half. Virginia didn’t convert a third down until early in the fourth quarter, and Wake Forest survived Virginia’s late offensive burst to reach at least six wins in three straight seasons for the first time since 1946-48.