Wake Forest wants this season to be remembered for more than just a Twitter hashtag.
Coach Dave Clawson’s third year was a breakthrough for the Demon Deacons – who wrapped up their first winning season since 2008 by knocking off No. 23 Temple 34-26 in the Military Bowl for their first postseason victory since that year.
The biggest headlines of the year weren’t created by any of the players – but by a former assistant coach-turned-broadcaster who the school says leaked or attempted to leak plays to opponents in what became known on social media as the “WakeyLeaks” scandal .
It threatened to completely overshadow the bowl game – at least, until the team raced out to a 31-10 halftime lead on the Owls and then held on for the kind of program-validating victory that the Demon Deacons (7-6) needed.
”We’ve worked so hard these past three years with Coach Clawson,” said linebacker Thomas Brown as he fought back tears. ”It’s such a great feeling. I really don’t even know how to describe it. Me and the rest of the senior class have been grinding since January 2014 to get to this point right now. Now we just hope this team rises up and keeps going once we depart.”
That Wake Forest was even in a position to reach a bowl game represents a significant step forward for a program that had slipped to the bottom of the Atlantic Coast Conference during most of the last decade, with only one bowl berth – a loss in the 2011 Music City Bowl – since 2008. The Demon Deacons went 3-9 in each of Clawson’s first two years while he patiently turned things around.
”It’s not just a one-season deal. It’s a three-year deal,” Clawson said.
This Wake Forest team did it with defense, ranking third in the ACC in points allowed (21.8 ppg) and landing in the middle of the league’s pack in total yardage (370 ypg) and against the pass (214 ypg).
That was good enough to carry an offense that ranked 13th in the ACC in both scoring (19.2 ppg) and total yardage (306 ypg) and lost its most dynamic quarterback – sophomore Kendall Hinton – to a knee injury in September.
Hinton figures to be at full strength by the time spring practice begins, seemingly setting up an interesting battle for the position with John Wolford, who has started nearly every game since 2014 but has taken a beating through the years, most recently leaving the Military Bowl early after injuring his neck when he landed on the top of his head while being tackled.
And, of course, Wake Forest probably won’t have to worry about ”Wakeyleaks” – which during the past few weeks morphed from being an intriguing saga of espionage into an annoyance for Clawson and his team. The person the school’s investigation identified as the leaker – former assistant Tommy Elrod – has been fired from his position as the analyst for the team’s radio broadcasts, and as far as the school is concerned, the story is over.
”It was really important we win this game so this game and this bowl championship becomes the lasting memory for this football team,” Clawson said, ”and not some stupid hashtag that nobody (currently) in our program was responsible for.”
AP Sports Writer David Ginsburg in Annapolis, Maryland, contributed to this report.
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