One last journey for Wake Forest gunslinger John Wolford

Belk Bowl MVP sets records in wild win over Texas A&M

Dec 29, 2017; Charlotte, NC, USA; Wake Forest Demon Deacons quarterback John Wolford (10) drops back to pass while being pressured by Texas A&M Aggies defensive lineman Micheal Clemons (2) in the first quarter in the 2017 Belk Bowl at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

CHARLOTTE — Wake Forest quarterback John Wolford walked out of the locker room following the Demon Deacons’ Belk Bowl win over Texas A&M.

With the day he had, shattering the Belk Bowl record for total offense and leading his team to a wild 55-52 win, there was only one suitable way for it to end.

“Write the movie script,” said head coach Dave Clawson. “If you write it, as soon as he walked out the door, there’s a girl that falls in love with him. He gets married and lives happily ever after. That’s a storybook ending. You can’t make this stuff up.”

There were no prospective wives in the immediate vicinity of the Wake Forest locker room at Bank of America Stadium. Instead, walking alone, he carried a large bag of gear and trudged toward the team bus, slightly favoring one foot.

“I sprained my ankle,” he said. “Again. For like the thousandth time.”

Wolford suffered the injury on a fumble that was recovered by A&M. By the time the offense came back onto the field, he was ready to go again.

The injury gave Wolford a slight limp as he headed off into the bowels of the stadium, looking the part of a gunslinger, heading out of town.

It was a fitting image for the winning quarterback in a game that rewrote the record books. A&M and Wake combined to run 191 plays, which was three more than had been run in any bowl game in history. The teams scored a total of 107 points, which tied for fourth most in the history of bowl games. The 1,260 combined yards of offense were second most ever, behind the 2011 Alamo Bowl, and the 63 combined first downs were the third most in a bowl game.

“I thought it would be a high-scoring game,” Clawson said. “I told our offensive coordinator before the game, ‘Go fast. I don’t know how much it’s going to take.’ I told (center) Ryan Anderson, ‘You’re the gas pedal, baby. Keep your foot on the gas.’ This game was going to come down to whoever could outscore somebody.”

Clawson was confident that, if it came down to which gunslinger fired the last shot, having Wolford on his side would be the difference.

“That kid deserves every single accolade and bit of success that he’s experienced,” he said. “Because two years ago, there weren’t a lot of big John Wolford fans. For him to go out that way, ignore the critics and believe in himself is really a testament to his character and the type of person he is.”

He’s not a bad football player, either. Wolford completed 32 of 49 passes for 400 yards and four touchdowns. Each of those set Wake Forest bowl records, just the latest in a long line of Wake records the senior has set this season.

On Friday, he also added the Wake marks for passing yards and passing touchdowns in a season, eclipsing Riley Skinner’s records. His four scoring tosses also tied a Belk Bowl record.

The game didn’t start out the way Wolford or Clawson drew it up. Wake opened with a pair of three-and-out drives that both ended with blocked punts. Before four minutes of game time had elapsed, the Deacs were down 14-0.

“Just keep playing,” Clawson told his team. “Keep playing. Keep playing. Last year, in the bowl, one play in, we were down 7-0. That’s where we’re different now than we’ve ever been. We know we have an offense that can overcome that. We have too many playmakers. At some point, we’re going to make plays and get on a roll.”

“The third drive, we got a quick slant (to Scotty Washington for 11 yards), and then we started going fast,” Wolford said.

Wolford completed that drive with a 50-yard touchdown to Washington, and the two teams never looked back.

“We knew there was a chance there could be a shootout,” Wolford said. “Then the first half happened, and we were like, ‘OK, here it goes.’”

Wolford led Wake on a 31-0 run to seemingly take control of the game in the second quarter, but A&M battled back, led by a gunslinger of its own. Quarterback Nick Starkel finished with 42-of-63 passing for 499 yards and four touchdowns. A&M took a lead at the end of the third quarter. Wake responded, and A&M took it back again with 5:52 to play.

Wolford completed eight of nine passes after Wake fell behind in the second half, however, leading the team back again and again.

In the end, he led his team to the podium to accept the Belk Bowl trophy and the game MVP, a fitting end to his college career.

“It was my last time out there with those guys,” he said. “It’s been a heck of a ride.”

Then it was time to walk off the field one last time, fighting the gimpy ankle that couldn’t keep him sidelined.

“It went numb,” Wolford explained of his return to the game following the sprain.

Even if it hadn’t, there was no way Wolford was coming out of the game.

“Yeah,” he said. “Not unless…”

Not thinking of any suitable calamity that would have caused him to miss time, Wolford shrugged and grinned.

Then he met with the media, gathered his things and headed off into the proverbial sunset. Unless he bumped into a prospective mate in the final few hundred yards, he wouldn’t get Clawson’s storybook ending.

Instead, Wolford would settle for counting his steps. Prior to the bowl game, he told the media that he’s just bought a FitBit.

“Somehow,” Clawson said, “I think John will get his steps every day.”