You can take the Wake Forest offense off the sides of milk cartons. It was found Thursday night in Durham. Unfortunately for the Demon Deacons, it went to waste. A lack of discipline kills Wake as they commit two costly penalties on Duke’s last drive and lose 24-21.
Mitch Griffis had a good enough game to win. But his one big error of the night, coupled with two 15-yard penalties by DaShawn Jones cost Wake the game. Thanks to the gifts from Wake Forest, Duke’s Todd Pelino hit a 25-yard field goal on the last play of the game for the Blue Devils win. The Demon Deacons have lost five of their last six games and dropped to 4-5 and now need to win two of their last three games to be bowl-eligible.
A Hard Loss to Take
“This one stings,” Wake Forest head coach Dave Clawson said after the game. “I thought we came. We competed. And in a lot of ways we outplayed them. But they just played a lot smarter than us and that’s why they won the football game.”
In front of a crowd in Durham that was so small, they did not even report an official attendance, Griffis was 16 of 19 passing for 241 yards and no touchdowns. He added 55 yards on the ground with two rushing touchdowns. But he had one interception. And it was a big one.
With the game tied at 21-21, on first and 10 at the Duke 40-yard line, Griffis went back to pass. He wasn’t hit. The ball wasn’t tipped. It just slipped out of his hands as his arm went forward. As the ball just waffled through the air, it was picked off by Ryan Smith at the Duke 38.
Defense Plays Well…Until It Doesn’t
The Blue Devils were playing without starting quarterback Riley Leonard who now has a toe injury in addition to his sprained ankle. That meant Duke was relying on freshman Grayson Loftis, who had thrown all of five pass attempts in his career. He was effective at running the Duke offense if not particularly good. He finished the night seven of 19 for 86 yards with a touchdown and an interception. When the receivers weren’t dropping passes that were right at their numbers, Wake’s defense did a decent enough job of controlling the Duke offense. Until the Demon Deacons gave the game away.
On second and 10 at the Wake 48-yard line, Duke running back Jaquez Moore got to the right side for four yards. But Wake’s Aiden Hall picked up an unsportsmanlike penalty for pulling players off the pile. On the very next play, Loftis hit Jordan Moore in the middle of the end zone for a 29-yard touchdown pass that tied the game at 21-21, with more than 11 minutes still to play.
The two sides traded punts. And then came the drive with the ball slipping out of Griffis’ hands. In the frigid temperatures Thursday night, he had gone back and forth with wearing a glove on his throwing hand. He wasn’t wearing one on this play. He did not take part in the post-game interviews, so it is tough to assess what happened to his grip on the ball.
Penalties Cost Wake Forest the Game
On third and 13 from their 34-yard line, Loftis threw down the right side to Moore. Wake defensive back DaShawn Jones never turned his head to track the ball, ran into Moore, and picked up the 15-yard pass interference penalty.
Four plays later, Jones was the culprit again. On second and eight from the Wake 38-yard line Loftis completed a pass along the right side to Sahmir Hagans for eight yards. But in making the stop, Jones picked Hagans up and body slammed him to the turf, WWE style. That was another 15-yard penalty. All of a sudden, an offense that was playing with a new quarterback was gifted 30 yards in one drive. They ran three more plays to grind out the clock and move closer into field goal range for Pelino’s game-winner.
“We made some really undisciplined, stupid penalties down the stretch that cost us the football game,” Clawson said. “It’s a shame because that was one of the better offensive performances we’ve had in a while,” he added.
Wake did put up 400 yards of total offense. Griffis looked the most comfortable running the scheme as he has all season. He was measured in the pocket but was tucking the ball and running instead of taking repeated sacks as he had in previous weeks. Wake also added 159 rushing yards with 81 for Demond Claiborne and 22 from Justice Ellison in addition to the 55 from Griffis.
But they were also bitten by the usually reliable Matthew Dennis’ two missed field goals. Turns out that on a night like Thursday, the six points truly mattered.
An Improved Mitch Griffis
Wake got on the board first with Griffis leading an eight-play 76-yard scoring drive. The Demon Deacons had four plays of 10 yards or more on the drive. Tate Carney finished the job bulling his way up the middle for the final three yards and the 7-0 lead.
Moore tied the game for Duke early in the second quarter with a 32-yard run right up the middle of the Wake defense. For having held the Duke passing game in check, Wake Forest gave up 181 rushing yards on the night.
Griffis got the points back with a touchdown run from eight yards out, going right up the middle on a seemingly designed quarterback run.
Duke tied it again, on the ground, with a Jordan Waters touchdown run of four yards to put the two teams into halftime at 14-14.
In the third quarter, it was Griffis again on a run where nothing else was open. He catapulted himself into the endzone on a four-yard run to put Wake up 21-14.
But then came the penalty on Hall that gave Duke its only other touchdown, and the 30 yards of penalties on Jones that ended the game.
It Will Take Time to Regoup
“The most selfish penalty you can ever commit is an unnecessary roughness or an unsportsmanlike penalty,” Clawson said. “And we had two of them in the fourth quarter that led to the game-winning field goal and led to a touchdown. It’s just really disappointing.”
Clawson said the coaching staff had talked to the team the night before about the intensity of a rivalry game. “You want to play with emotion, but you don’t want to play emotional. And we just made two really, really stupid penalties in the fourth quarter.”
Defensive back Malik Mustapha described the emotions of the locker room after the game. “Guys are down. Yeah, it’s really bad overall.” He added, “Obviously it hurts that we just gave it to them like that.”
With the Thursday night game, Wake has a couple of extra days to regroup mentally and emotionally before another rivalry game, at home, next week against North Carolina State.