Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Wake Forest: 2016 Military Bowl Champions



ANNAPOLIS, Md. -- When Wake Forest fans look back at 2016, perhaps they will remember an exciting victory in the Military Bowl as the culmination of the team's first winning season in eight years.

At least, that's what Demon Deacons coach Dave Clawson would like to believe.

Wake Forest attached a positive ending to a season marred by scandal, using a strong performance by quarterback John Wolford to beat heavily favored Temple 34-26 on Tuesday in the Military Bowl.

After throwing an interception on the first series of the game -- a turnover Temple used to take a 7-0 lead -- Wolford helped the Demon Deacons rattle off 31 straight points before halftime.

Wolford left with a neck strain in the third quarter with the score 31-17. Wake Forest (7-6) then withstood a comeback bid by Temple (10-4) to secure its first bowl victory since 2008.

That gave the Demon Deacons something to talk about this offseason beside a troubling spy story. According to a Wake Forest investigation, broadcaster Tommy Elrod leaked or attempted to leak game plan information to at least three opponents. Though Elrod has not released a public statement on the scandal, the school has since fired him.

The scandal was dubbed "Wakey Leaks."

"It was really important we win this game so this game and this bowl championship becomes the lasting memory for this football team and not some stupid hashtag that nobody in our program was responsible for," Clawson said. "That becomes the lasting memory for the team and not a bitterness of something we're ready to move past."

In spite of the distraction, the Demon Deacons snapped a three-game losing streak and won for only the second time since Oct. 8.

"I'm trying to fight back tears right now," linebacker Thomas Brown said. "It's such a great feeling. I really don't even know how to describe it."

Wolford, a junior, completed 10 of 19 passes for 183 yards and two scores. Though he wasn't there at the finish, he certainly did enough while in the game.

"I wanted to play, but it was probably the safest thing to come out," Wolford said.

His backup, redshirt freshman Kyle Kearns, went 4 for 10 for 60 yards and an interception.

Seeking the first 11-win season in school history, Temple came in as an 11-point favorite. A 48-yard pass from Phillip Walker to Adonis Jennings on the Owls' first offensive play gave them their only lead.

Down 31-7 late in the first half, Temple used a 19-point run to close to 31-26 with 3:56 left. Wake Forest then used an 80-yard kickoff return by John Armstrong and the resulting field goal to make it an eight-point game with 1:59 left.

Temple came in with a seven-game winning streak after capturing the American Athletic Conference title with a 34-10 rout of Navy on this same field Dec. 3.

"I know that once it all sinks in -- on how close we came to winning this game and how close we came to being the best Temple team ever -- it's going to hurt worse than it does right now," interim coach Ed Foley said.

Foley took the reins after Matt Rhule was hired by Baylor on Dec. 6. The Owls subsequently signed Florida defensive coordinator Geoff Collins as their new head coach, and he got a first-hand look at his new team on Tuesday.

Walker finished his career by going 28 for 49 for 396 yards and two touchdowns, both to Jennings. He was sacked four times, including a pivotal 22-yarder on second down from the Wake Forest 6 preceding the Owls' final field goal.

TALE OF TWO HALVES

Foley loved the way the Owls played in the second half, but he lamented their performance over the first 30 minutes.

"We have a certain way that we like to play football," he said. "And we did it for one half today.

"We were trying to be the best Temple team ever. Obviously, we're tied for the best Temple team ever. It doesn't sound great, but we are champions."

TAKEAWAY

Temple: The Owls showed their stuff in the second half, but this performance against a team that went 3-5 in the Atlantic Coast Conference was not the way they want to remember this season.


Wake Forest: Impressive outing against a conference champion and a celebration at midfield was a perfect way to end an imperfect season.

UP NEXT

Temple: The Owls' next game will be played under Collins. One of his top priorities will be finding a replacement for Walker, the school record-holder for career completions, touchdowns, yards and wins by a starting quarterback (29).

Wake Forest: The Demon Deacons hope to put the Wakey Leaks fiasco behind them during the offseason so they can start anew in 2017. Wake Forest won more games this season (7) than in Clawson's first two years combined (6).
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