WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (AP) John Wolford shook off three interceptions to throw for 291 yards and two touchdowns, and Wake Forest used a stifling defense to beat Gardner-Webb 23-7 on Saturday night and give new coach Dave Clawson his first victory.
A true freshman, Wolford completed 30 of 38 passes, with both scores going to E.J. Scott. Mike Weaver kicked three field goals and Wake Forest (1-1) limited the FCS’ Runnin’ Bulldogs (0-2) to 131 yards.
After being held to three field goals in a lackluster first half, the Demon Deacons took control in the third quarter following a lightning delay of just under an hour.
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Wolford completed all six passes on the first drive of the second half, including a 10-yard TD pass to Scott to end a six-quarter drought without an offensive touchdown.
Wolford’s 14-yard TD pass to Scott made it 23-0 early in the fourth quarter.
Clawson celebrated his first victory after taking over for Jim Grobe in the offseason.
Quarterback Tyrell Maxwell’s 5-yard touchdown run with 16 seconds left gave Gardner-Webb its first touchdown of the season. Paul Schumacher’s missed 30- and 40-yard field goals earlier in the second half.
Wake Forest’s lone touchdown in a 17-10 season-opening loss to Louisiana-Monroe came on a blocked punt.
And after a first half filled with miscues and costly penalties, Wake Forest turned to a hurry-up offense following the delay. Wolford thrived and showed confidence, finding Scott in the middle of the end zone with a lob off play action.
It was an impressive turnaround following a hard-luck start.
After leading Wake Forest to a 27-yard field goal on the opening possession, Wolford twice threw interceptions deep inside Gardner-Webb territory to keep a one-sided game in yards and time of possession close.
Kenyatta Dunbar grabbed a tipped pass at the 3 and later Chad Geter picked off Wolford at the 10 after another deflection.
Wolford’s final pick, by Azziz Higgins, also came after a tip. The Jacksonville, Fla., native’s four interceptions in two games have all been off deflections.
Scott caught four passes for 62 yards and Orville Reynolds rushed for 54 yards.
After Weaver’s 37-yard field goal made it 9-0 with 14 seconds left in the first half, officials cleared the field and stands due to lightning in the area.
The thunderstorm delayed play for 59 minutes. When it resumed, the final 14 seconds of the first half were wiped out, with play beginning with the second half kickoff.
And after forcing Gardner-Webb to a three-and-out, Wolford and the Demon Deacons finally started to click, providing hope Clawson can help energize a program that went 4-8 last season and led to Grobe’s departure.
The Runnin’ Bulldogs, playing without all-Big South receiver Kenny Cook (hamstring) and linebacker Tanner Burch (shoulder), ran out of steam in their second consecutive game without a touchdown.
Maxwell and Lucas Beatty combined to throw for 54 yards for the Bulldogs, who lost 13-3 to fellow FCS foe Furman in its opener.