WINSTON-SALEM — Wake Forest put together a breakthrough seven-win season in 2016 largely on the strength of its defense. Thursday night, in the opening game of the 2017 season, the Deacons flexed some new offensive muscle in a record-setting scoring barrage.
Sure, the opponent was only Presbyterian — an FCS team that went 2-9 a year ago and is breaking in a new coach. But that shouldn’t diminish the performance coach Dave Clawson’s team put together in its 51-7 shellacking of the Blue Hose.
“When you play a game like that, that you should win, you just want to come out and play clean, not beat yourself and not make those mistakes,” Clawson said. “I thought we did that in the first half and the good thing is we got to play a lot of kids in the second half.
“We’re 1-0. We’ll learn from this one and get ready for the next one (at Boston College), which is a big one in conference.”
Wake finished dead last in the ACC in touchdowns with just 26 all last season and were 13th in the league in both scoring offense and total offense. On this night, though, it got into the end zone seven times and scored points on eight of its first nine possessions through the first three quarters. The only time it didn’t score was when backup quarterback Kendall Hinton took a knee just before halftime.
By that time, the Deacons had already surpassed the 31 points they put on the board against Presbyterian the last time they played in 2013 on the way to their highest scoring total in the 49-year history of BB&T Field.
In all, five Wake players scored touchdowns, with All-ACC tight end Cam Serigne getting the first two on passes from starting quarterback John Wolford and redshirt freshman Greg Dortch adding two — one each from Wolford and Hinton.
“It was very exciting, very encouraging,” senior linebacker Jaboree Williams said of his team’s offensive explosion. “Working against them all offseason and in camp, they have some weapons. I’m definitely excited about them all year.”
Wolford, starting his fourth straight opening night game, was an efficient 11 of 15 for 107 yards and three touchdowns. He also scored a rushing touchdown. Hinton was just as good, showing off a strong, accurate arm to go along with his better-known running skills while completing seven of his eight passes for 124 yards and two scores.
Both of his touchdowns, a 42-yarder to a wide open Dortch and a 29-yarder to Alex Bachman, came on deep balls that were thrown right on the money.
While the quarterbacks shined, the breakout star for the Deacons on this humid late-August evening was Dortch.
A 5-foot-9, 165-pound burner, the talented youngster first opened eyes with a 23-yard return on the Blue Hose’s first punt of the game. He then added a 29-yard return in which he pinballed off several defenders and reversed his field with a burst of speed down the sideline.
Dortch ended his night with four catches for 55 yards and those two touchdowns, but his most electric run came on a play that didn’t even count — a 96-yard return of the second half kickoff that was nullified by a holding penalty.
“The more you get those guys the ball in space, you get some big plays,” Wolford said. “It makes my job easier. It makes me look better.”
Defensively, Wake’s first and second units limited Presbyterian to 118 yards through three quarters before Clawson began emptying his bench. Sophomore linebacker Justin Strnad made the two biggest plays of the night by intercepting a Ben Cheek pass in the first half, then tackling Cheek for a loss on a fourth-and-two play from the Deacon 11.
The Blue Hose finally got on the board in the fourth quarter when Torrance Marabel broke off two long runs against Wake’s reserves and scored from 14 yards out with 8:23 remaining.
The Deacons ended up outgaining their overmatched opponent 487-248.
“By no means are we content with where we’re at,” Wolford said. “The schedule gets extremely harder starting next week.”