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Deacons fans ready for bowl game

By Steve Huffman

Salisbury Post

Andy Porter graduated from Wake Forest in 1969 and finished law school there in 1975.

Which explains his devotion to Demon Deacon sports.

Even the school’s football team.

“I tell people I’ve hung with ’em through thin and thinner,” said Porter, a Salisbury attorney.

“There’s been very little thick.”

Until this season.

But tonight (wonder of wonders!), the Deacons square off against the Louisville Cardinals in the FedEx Orange Bowl in Miami.

For Wake Forest football fans, long accustomed to being the brunt of every gridiron joke imaginable, it’s the culmination of a dream season.

For the first time since 1970, the Deacons are ACC champions. They’re 11-2 and ranked 15th in the nation.

This is the first time a football team from Wake Forest has ever played in January. In the program’s 105-year history, the Deacons have been invited to only seven bowl games. None have come close to the importance of tonight’s.

While Wake’s naysayers might point out that Louisville — 12-1 and the nation’s No. 5 team — is a 10-point favorite, Deacon fans would be justified in countering that after the season they’ve experienced, being a slight underdog is no big deal.

That’s the way Porter and his fellow Deacon supporters are looking at it.

“It’s just been one of those magical seasons where everything fell into place,” Porter said.

He left Friday to drive to Miami for tonight’s game. Well, to attend the game and play a bit of golf along the way.

Porter said he planned to pick up a friend and fellow Wake Forest alumnus in Greenville, S.C. From there, the two were driving to Miami where they were going to stay with yet another friend and Wake Forest grad.

“We’re looking to play a lot of golf sandwiched in, hopefully, with a really good Orange Bowl game,” Porter said before embarking on his grand adventure.

In August, before the football season kicked off, Porter studied Wake’s schedule and made a bold prediction.

“I picked us at 7-5,” Porter said. “I did so being as black and gold (Wake’s colors) as I could be.”

He noted that, for the most part, things have gone as well this season as Wake fans could have dreamed.

Early on, the Deacons beat Duke 14-13 when Wake blocked a Blue Devil field goal try on the game’s last play. The Deacons routed Florida State 30-0, and stopped Georgia Tech 9-6 in the ACC championship game.

But Porter noted that had a few breaks not fallen the Deacons’ way, the season could easily have been far less successful.

“If you take away about five plays, my 7-5 prognosis is probably close,” he said.

* * *

Ames Flynn and his wife, Jennifer, both graduated from Wake Forest in 1986. Since, Ames has earned a graduate degree there while Jennifer completed law school at Wake.

They’re Salisbury residents and proud as they can be of their alma mater.

“It’s one of those years when the stars aligned in our favor,” Ames said. “It’s been an unbelievable season.”

Ames and Jennifer, as well as their son, Austin, and daughter, Anna, went to about seven Wake games this year, including the ACC championship game in Jacksonville, Fla. They’re not traveling to Miami for tonight’s game, but promise to be hunkered down in front of their television to watch every minute.

“I told my son that this is a perfect example of team chemistry lifting a team higher than anyone thought possible,” Ames said. “It’s been a wonderful year.”

* * *

Jeff Ketner graduated from Wake in 1963 and has been a faithful follower of the Deacons ever since.

It hasn’t always been pretty.

“Any Wake football fan has been a long-suffering fan,” Ketner said.

He noted that his freshman year at Wake, he watched the Deacons absorb something in the neighborhood of a 63-0 shelling in a driving rain storm.

“I figured it can’t get any worse than that, and it hasn’t, but it hasn’t missed it by much a few times,” Ketner said.

He said this year’s success isn’t as overnight as some believe, noting that the Deacons have been gradually improving in the six years that head coach Jim Grobe has been at the helm.

“We were 4-7 each of the last two years, but we had some close losses,” Ketner said. “We knew we had a lot of starters returning. I thought the odds were good that we were going to have a better team.”

Still, Ketner said he remembers the first game of the season against Syracuse when the scoreboard at Groves Stadium advised Deacon fans to start making plans for a trip to the Orange Bowl in January.

“I thought, ‘Oh, yeah,’ ” Ketner said, chuckling as he spoke.

He said that regardless of whether the Deacons win or lose tonight, Wake fans have plenty to celebrate. Ketner and other Wake supporters point out that the Deacons graduate 93 percent of their football players (second, nationally, only to Notre Dame), a remarkable percentage in an era when plenty of schools put an emphasis on winning and little focus on academics.

“We’ve been through the lean times and the better times,” Ketner said. “We’ve had some struggles, but we’ve got a coach now who’s going to lead us to at least regular respectability.”

* * *

Salisbury’s Stephen Bullock graduated from Wake in 1989. He said that coming into this season, he figured the Deacons would be respectable, at least.

Then, in Wake’s first game, Ben Mauk, the team’s starting quarterback broke his arm and was lost for the season.

“I thought, ‘Oh, no. We were finally going to have a decent team and now it’s all down the drain,’ ” Bullock said.

Instead, the Deacons have surprised. Redshirt freshman Riley Skinner took over at quarterback and received the ACC’s Rookie of the Year award.

A couple of weeks after Mauk was injured, the Deacons lost their leading rusher, Micah Andrews, to injury.

Again, others have filled the void.

“Each week, we’ve found a way to win,” Bullock said.

He and a number of family members and friends will be at the Orange Bowl for tonight’s game. Bullock said he wouldn’t miss it.

“This may never happen again,” he said.

Contact Steve Huffman at 704-797-4222 or shuffman@ salisburypost.com.

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