WINSTON-SALEM — Mitch Griffis threw for 288 yards and three touchdowns in his first career start and Christian Turner and Taylor Morin added spectacular individual efforts on scores, helping No. 22 Wake Forest beat VMI 44-10 on Thursday night in the opener for both teams.
Griffis started with veteran Sam Hartman sidelined indefinitely by a non-football medical issue. Hartman — who guided the Demon Deacons to last year’s Atlantic Coast Conference championship game — was on the sideline in his black jersey, black shorts and a black cap to watch his understudy lead an easy win against a Championship Subdivision opponent.
“I really didn’t know what to expect,” Griffis said. “I just wanted to do my job and come out with a win. That happened, so I’m happy.”
Griffis’ first TD throw was a perfect ball while moving to his right, with Morin diving just inside the right end-zone sideline for the 23-yard score and a 17-0 first quarter lead.
“I wasn’t sure where Mitch was going to put the ball,” Morin said, “but Mitch put it the only place he could.”
Turner had preceded that with his own highlight-reel TD. He appeared headed for a modest gain when he was wobbled by a hit from Aljareek Malry in a crowd near the middle of the field. But Turner extended his left hand into the grass to stay on his feet, then popped free on the left side for a 35-yard TD.
Turner ran for 100 yards and two scores in the game to lead the Demon Deacons, who had 506 total yards but also committed seven penalties for 70 yards.
Griffis had played just seven career games entering Thursday. He completed 21 of 29 passes, including a 27-yard scoring throw over the middle to Blake Whitehart in the third and a 14-yard TD toss to Jahmal Banks in the fourth.
The game also marked the return of Wake Forest receiver Donavon Greene.
Greene was set to be the Demon Deacons’ top target last year before being sidelined by a preseason knee injury while A.T. Perry and Jaquarii Roberson thrived in a high-scoring offense. Greene was Griffis’ favorite target Thursday, converting a team-high eight targets into five catches for 63 yards.
“It was great to get him out there but there was a lot of rust that was getting knocked off,” Clawson said. “He’s a good player, but he hasn’t played football in two years, and I think it showed.”
VMI, from the Southern Conference, sought its first win against a nationally ranked opponent from the Bowl Subdivision ranks. Its lone offensive highlight was Grant Swinehart taking a pass from backup quarterback Collin Ironside and sprinting down the right side for a 34-yard touchdown — though that came with Wake Forest leading 30-3 late in the third.
“We were just inconsistent,” eighth-year VMI coach Scott Wachenheim said. “We had some drives where we were moving the ball, but when we stubbed our toe, this is a tough defense to come back and make up the yardage we lost.”
It was hardly a clean performance for Wake. The Deacons took three holding penalties during two second quarter drives, two to force a punt and one to wipe out an easy touchdown and force Wake Forest to settle for a field goal. There was another to negate Griffis’ 2-point keeper late in the third, irking ninth-year coach Dave Clawson enough that he kicked at the turf in frustration, even with a big lead. And finally, there was a roughing-the-passer penalty that negated Isaiah Wingfield’s 46-yard pick-6.
“I’m proud of the win, but I thought we were really sloppy,” Clawson said. “There’s just not a good feeling in my stomach. … To me the penalties were awful.”
Wake Forest is unlikely to move much in the next AP Top 25 after facing little drama in beating an FCS foe. The Demon Deacons have a road game against a power-conference opponent, visiting Vanderbilt of the Southeastern Conference next Saturday.