WINSTON-SALEM — Determined not to let Boston College’s A.J. Dillion run roughshod over it, the Wake Forest football team challenged Eagles quarterback Anthony Brown to beat it Thursday.
And he obliged.
While the ACC’s preseason Player of the Year did only minimal damage despite rushing for 185 yards on 33 carries, it was Brown that played the biggest role in shattering the Deacons’ hopes of establishing themselves as a serious Atlantic Division contender.
The sophomore completed 16 of 25 passes for a career-high 304 yards to lead BC to a 41-34 victory at BB&T Field in a game moved up two hours to avoid Hurricane Florence.
“We knew we wanted to throw the ball tonight,” Eagles coach Steve Addazio said. “We knew there would be opportunities in the play action game because the safeties were going to be violently coming into the box. We knew that would happen and we went to it. I thought we mixed it pretty good.”
Wake coach Dave Clawson can’t be blamed for his decision to put the onus on Brown. A year ago in Chestnut Hill, the BC quarterback threw for only 119 yards and was intercepted three times in a 34-10 Deacons win.
He was a much different passer in the return match Thursday, connecting on scoring strikes of 27, 35, 29, 71 and 40 yards, with the latter — to wide receiver Ben Glines — providing the final margin of victory with 8:48 remaining.
As effective as Brown was, Clawson said his defense helped make the BC passer’s job much easier than it could have been.
“BC challenges you with all the different formations and all the different play actions,” Clawson said. “You’ve got to be really disciplined and have your eyes in the right place. On the one long 70-yard touchdown, we didn’t have our eyes in the right place.
“The 27-yard pass, we bent on not even a good double move. The other play was another outrun on a safety. The guys were jumping and looking back, and we’re not keeping out eyes on our man. It happens over and over and over. It’s frustrating.”
Even with those mistakes, the Deacons (2-1, 0-1 ACC) were still in good shape heading into halftime.
They answered an early 45-yard run by Dillon with a 2-yard touchdown by Matt Colburn, set up by a muffed BC punt. Then after Brown threw his first scoring pass, to a toe-tapping Jeff Smith in the second quarter, they answered right back with a blocked punt recovered in the end zone by backup defensive back Malik Grate.
Sage Surratt, who set a North Carolina high school record with 80 receiving touchdowns, then scored the first of his college career on a short pass from freshamn quarterback Sam Hartman to put Wake ahead for the first time at 21-14.
But the lead didn’t last long.
It took the Eagles just three plays to pull even, scoring on a Brown strike to a wide open Kobay White that left Clawson with an uneasy feeling heading into the halftime locker room.
“I never felt like this game was under control,” he said. “I don’t feel like we outplayed them. Those (turnovers) allowed us to stay in the game that, in some ways, we didn’t deserve to be in.”
Clawson’s worst fears were realized during a second half that was statistically even everywhere except the scoreboard.
While BC (3-0, 1-0) scored three touchdowns without ever needing to reach the red zone, the Deacons had trouble punching the ball into the end zone from inside the 10-yard line. They drove it in close only to come away with a pair of Nick Sciba chip shot field goals. The third time, they came away with nothing when Hartman — who looked like a freshman for the first time in his young career — overthrew Greg Dortch in the end zone on fourth-and-2 from the Eagles’ 8.
By the time Wake finally got its touchdown, on a 5-yard pass from Hartman to Jack Freudenthal with 1:33 left, it was too late to salvage the victory.
“We ran the ball well, we marched down the field well, we did everything except score,” said running back Cade Carney, one of two Deacon backs with more than 100 yards rushing. He had 116, while Colburn finished with 117 and Hartman added 65 more on the ground.
“It’s absolutely (a missed opportunity) being in the red zone as many times as we were without scoring. Being in the situation we were at half, a competitive game, that’s an opportunity. In the second half, to not capitalize in the red zone, we just shot ourselves in the foot too many times.”
Hartman contributed to the problem by throwing two interceptions. His offensive line did, too, by allowing four sacks.
Those mistakes and the inability of the secondary to cover BC receivers downfield made for a disappointing end to an evening that turned out much better than anyone had hoped with the weather. Even as Florence battered the coast, the game was played in near-perfect conditions.
“We weren’t really focused on the storm,” senior safety Cameron Glenn said. “The whole time we were just focused on the game. We wanted to play regardless of if it was raining or storming.”
The only thing they’d change is the outcome.
“We let one go,” Glenn said. “So that’s pretty much the tale of the game.”