WINSTON-SALEM — It took a couple buckets of wet footballs, a backup quarterback with starting experience and little luck for Wake Forest to break its seven-game losing streak against ACC Atlantic rival Florida State on Saturday.
Most of all, though, it took a defense that had been thoroughly embarrassed a week earlier and a kicker who just couldn’t miss no matter what the conditions to pull the Deacons through to an emotional 22-20 victory at BB&T Field.
Nick Sciba tied a school record with five field goals, including the game-winner with 4:27 remaining as the Deacons got back on the winning track after last week’s high-scoring loss to Louisville.
“I’m emotionally spent right now, which I usually don’t get” a soggy Wake coach Dave Clawson said afterward. “That was just such a hard, gritty win. There were like 10 times in that game that you said, geez, it might not happen tonight. And our kids never listened to those voices and I’m just so incredibly proud of them.”
There was good reason for Clawson’s feelings of dread as he watched former starter turned backup Sam Hartman drive his team up and down the field with ease during the first half, only to stall each time once it reached the red zone.
Four times the Deacons advanced inside the FSU 10-yard line in the opening 30 minutes, but all they got to show for it was four chip shot 3-pointers by Sciba. Their inability to score touchdowns came back to haunt them once the Seminoles finally got their offense going to take a 14-12 lead into halftime.
Those wasted opportunities began to loom larger in the second half, even after Wake finally got into the end zone on a short Cade Carney run to regain the lead at 19-14 early in the fourth quarter.
When FSU Went back ahead on a 36-yard pass from James Blackman to Tamorrion Terry and the weather conditions began to deteriorate as the remnants of Tropical Storm Nestor began to move in, it looked as though the Deacons (6-1, 2-1 ACC) were headed for a familiar — and disappointing — ending.
But Hartman, who was 21 of 38 for 308 yards, and his teammates were determined not to let that happen.
The sophomore quarterback, who lost his job to Jamie Newman only to regain it when Newman was hurt last week against Louisville, drove Wake 62 yards on 10 plays. Although the possession once again stalled short of the end zone, Sciba came through with his fifth field goal of the night.
Though only 27 yards long, this one was by far the most difficult because of the circumstances and the conditions. Even in the downpour, Sciba was confident he would make the kick since a day earlier, he, his holder Dom Maggio and long snapper Dayton Diemel spent an entire practice working with balls soaked in buckets of water in anticipation of bad weather.
“It was different, but every kick is the same kick, so I’ve got to go out there with the same mentality that I’ve got to do my job and make the kick,” said Sciba, who has made his last 23 field goal attempts. “I think what helped is the day before we practiced wet ball work, snapping, holding, kicking. That helped a lot today.”
As frustrating as Wake’s offensive struggles in the red zone might have been, things could have been much worse had it not for Sciba’s consistency.
“You always want to score (touchdowns),” left tackle Justin Herron said. “But some points are better than no points.”
From a defensive perspective, some points were a whole lot better than a boatload of points after the Deacons were torched for 62 by the Cardinals last week.
FSU (3-4, 2-3) still managed to pile up 449 yards of total offense in the game. But when it counted most, the much-maligned Wake defense came through — stopping one drive with a fumble recovery and coming up big on third down late in the game to force the Seminoles into a long field goal attempt that Ricky Aguayo missed wide left with just over two minutes remaining.
Then after FSU got the ball back in the final minute, the Deacons forced another fumble that was recovered by Blackman, then sealed the deal with a sack as time expired.
“It was definitely a statement,” defensive end Carlos Basham Jr. said. “Coach preached about moving on from last week and we took it to heart. This week’s practice every day was way better than it was and it showed on the field. … At the end of the game, the feeling was way better than that loss last week.”