WINSTON-SALEM — Mitch Griffis threw for three touchdowns to open his tenure as Wake Forest’s full-time starting quarterback and help the Demon Deacons beat Elon 37-17 on Thursday night.
The fourth-year passer is taking over after the transfer of star Sam Hartman to No. 13 Notre Dame. Griffis had started last year’s opener against VMI in relief of Hartman, then was back in the starting lineup again — this time as the guy positioned for the longer term — a day shy of that anniversary to throw for 329 yards in his second career start.
It wasn’t all perfect, namely with throwing an interception returned for a touchdown and taking two sacks when holding the ball too long.
“Obviously the games are going to get a lot harder,” Griffis said, adding: “But I think each week I will improve. That’s the goal.”
Griffis was accurate during a fast start, throwing for 230 yards on 11-of-14 passing as Wake Forest took a 24-0 halftime lead. That included a 33-yard score on an impressive contested catch by Jahmal Banks, along with a perfect strike down the middle to Cameron Hite for a 69-yard scoring sprint that Hite said was “probably the farthest and fastest I’ve run” since high school.
Griffis also hit Wesley Grimes for a completely undefended 18-yard throw to the end zone to cap his first drive.
His major mistake was trying to throw past Elon defender Caleb Curtain underneath. But Curtain jumped to snag the ball and outrun everyone for a 50-yard score late in the third quarter that pulled the Phoenix within 27-14.
“I thought we had a chance to put that game over in the third quarter,” coach Dave Clawson said. “The pick-6 and our inability to score touchdowns in the red zone, that will cost us games later down the season.”
There were two long touchdowns for the Phoenix, a Championship Subdivision program from the Coastal Athletic Association. Jalen Hampton got Elon on the board by turning the corner on the left side and running free for a 49-yard score midway through the third.
“Those two plays really changed that half,” Elon coach Tony Trisciani said.
Elon, which was coming off a trip to the FCS playoffs, was trying for only its second win against a current member of the Atlantic Coast Conference.
But Wake Forest’s Demond Claiborne ran for a 10-yard touchdown in the final minutes to punctuate this one.
Elon: The Phoenix got off to a horrendous start. Elon managed minus-15 yards on its first 10 plays and didn’t cross into positive yardage until early in the second. That came after Trisciani had pulled starting quarterback Matthew Downing — who had stops at Georgia, TCU and Louisiana Tech — for reserve Justin Allen. Allen threw for 128 yards and two interceptions, including a costly second-quarter one in the end zone.
“It’s tough to beat an ACC team when you get off to the slow start that we did,” Trisciani said.
Wake Forest: The Demon Deacons opened their 10th year under Clawson by improving to 9-1 in home openers. They’ve been successful through developing players over multiple years, and that showed with some of the playmakers who stood out in this one. That included Banks, a physical receiver who had six grabs for 108 yards; and Hite (four catches for 91 yards).
Elon fell to 1-29-2 all-time against current ACC teams, the only win coming against Miami in 1928. … Wake Forest improved to 12-0-1 in the series between in-state schools separated by about 50 miles. The lone tie came in a scoreless game in October 1927. … This was the most points Elon has scored in the series. … Grimes had three catches for 76 yards, including a 49-yard reception for Wake Forest.
Elon: The Phoenix stay in the home state by visiting Gardner-Webb next Saturday.
Wake Forest: The Demon Deacons host Southeastern Conference program Vanderbilt next Saturday.