WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (AP) — Quarterback John Wolford tied a career high with 94 rushing yards, including a 64-yard touchdown run, and Wake Forest beat Virginia 27-20 on Saturday.
The Demon Deacons (6-3, 3-2 ACC) became bowl eligible for the first time since 2011 with the win, their third in a row over UVA (2-7, 1-4).
“We’ve got some kids who have really busted their butts, put a lot into this program, for three, four, five years,” Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson said. “People say, ‘Why do you coach?’ You can ask my wife. I don’t sleep. ‘Why do you do this to yourself?’ The high of enjoying moments like that is why you keep going at it. There’s no feeling in the world like getting to share that with your team. That’s what keeps you going.”
Wake Forest trailed 20-17 early in the fourth quarter, and the Cavaliers had opportunities to build on the advantage. But as has often been the case in the Deacons’ wins under Clawson, the team’s defense made momentum-shifting plays.
On consecutive fourth quarter drives, Virginia’s Kurt Benkert threw interceptions. Wake Forest capitalized on them both.
Mike Weaver’s 36-yard field goal following the first of those picks made it 20-all, and safety Jessie Bates returned the second 39 yards for the game-winning touchdown with 6:47 remaining.
“Their quarterback, he was throwing it up all night,” Bates said. “When he got outside the pocket, he was kind of panicking … He threw it into triple coverage. I caught it, and our guys blocked for me like every time I get an interception.”
“Sometimes you’re going to get sacked,” Virginia coach Bronco Mendenhall said. “It’s sometimes better to take the sack than deliver the ball in traffic. He was trying so hard to extend plays, and I applaud him for that. He doesn’t have to do it all by himself.”
Wake Forest: The Deacons’ ground game paved the way for their offensive success. Wake Forest eschewed all pretense of play-calling balance in the early stages; Wolford didn’t attempt a pass in the first quarter. The Cavaliers defense simply could not stop the ground game, as Wolford combined with running backs Cade Carney and Matt Colburn for 130 rushing yards on 14 carries by the end of the quarter, including Wolford’s 64-yard scoring run.
“I was feeling pretty fast,” Wolford said. “I just didn’t want to fumble. That was my whole thought process, so if I felt anyone get close, I was gonna go two hands (on the ball). I was able to pull away. It’s always fun to get those big runs, because people don’t expect it.”
Virginia: The loss ensured the Cavaliers would finish with a losing record for the fifth consecutive season. Their last bowl appearance, like Wake Forest, came in 2011, when they lost to Auburn 43-24 in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.
Wake Forest: The Deacons will play their final road game of the season next Saturday when they travel to No. 5 Louisville. Wake Forest has not beaten a nationally-ranked opponent since knocking off then-No. 22 Florida State 35-30 in 2011, and it has not beaten a team ranked in the top 5 since a 1946 win at then-No. 4 Tennessee.
Virginia: The Cavaliers return to Charlottesville to host Miami next Saturday. That will be UVA’s final home game before ending the season with trips to Georgia Tech and rival Virginia Tech.
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