WINSTON-SALEM — Wake Forest safety Brendon Harris made sure his former teammates remembered him in the Demon Deacons’ 36-20 victory over Vanderbilt on Saturday.
Harris finished the game’s most dramatic play, scooping up a fumbled punt late in the first half and returning it 31 yards for a touchdown that quelled a Commodores rally.
Though he spent four years at Vanderbilt — one as a redshirt — Harris didn’t express much special satisfaction from playing a major role in beating his former team. Maybe because Wake Forest (2-0) beat Vanderbilt (2-1) last season in Nashville, Tennessee, Harris’ hometown.
“It was fun looking across the field and seeing them,” conceded Harris, when asked about the reunion.
Wake Forest, in danger of squandering an early 10-point lead, regained control with Harris’ TD return, caused by Walker Merrill’s hit on punt returner Will Sheppard, who took two steps after catching the punt.”
“We’re taught to go down the field and keep our eyes low and look for the ball,” said Harris.
Prior to Harris’ TD, Vanderbilt had scored on Sheppard’s 10-yard catch on a pass from AJ Swann to cut the lead to 17-14, and the Commodores’ defense then quickly forced the Demon Deacons to punt.
“It came down to turnovers,” said Wake coach Dave Clausen. “Fortunately, we generated them.”
The Deacons’ Mitch Griffis threw for 196 yards and two touchdowns in a game delayed two hours by lightning. Demond Claiborne rushed for 165 yards on 26 carries and Tate Carney added 117 yards on 13 carries.
Swann threw for 314 yards passing on 26-of-39 attempts with three TDs and two interceptions for the Commodores. Patrick Smtih rushed 77 yards on 10 carries.
Vanderbilt threatened to pull within a touchdown in the third quarter, but Wake stopped a fourth-down play at its 1-yard line. The Deacons’ offense later wasted a deep drive when Carney lost a fumble before crossing the goal line on a call made after video replay.
Clausen said Vandy’s defensive scheme was responsible for his team’s 48 rushes, which accounted for 288 yards, and only 26 passing attempts. In the fourth quarter, Wake didn’t have a single passing attempt in a 73-yard drive that produced a 19-yard field goal.
“On the whole, we were able to force them to go the hard way, and we kind of ran out of steam in the second half,” Vanderbilt coach Clark Lea said.
Wake Forest travels to Norfolk, Virginia, for a game with Old Dominion on Saturday.