WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (AP) — 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 Clawson. “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.
Vandy quarterback AJ Swann threw for 314 yards passing on 26-of-39 attempts with three TDs and two interceptions. Patrick Smtih rushed 77 yards on 10 carries.
The Commodores 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, call made after video replay.
Clawson 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.
Though Wake Forest never trailed, mistakes were especially costly for Vandy, including two on Harris’ pivotal TD return. Swann threw two interceptions, including an early deep pass that was returned 40 yards by Malik Mustapha to set up an early Wake field goal. Wake also cashed in with a Carney TD run after a pass interference penalty provided a first down on a third-and-18 play. On the punt that produced Harris’ TD, Vandy committed a running-into-the-kicker penalty that would have left the Deacons with 4th-and-1 at their own 34.
WILD CARNEY RIDE
Carney, a redshirt freshman was a major participant in several key, and unusual plays.
The hard-running Carney supplied a remarkable 74-yard carry that included two broken tackles. On the second missed tackle, Carney slipped through the arms of a defender on the left sideline near midfield and was several yards behind other defenders before he was hauled down from behind at the Vandy 2. On the next play, Carney fumbled the ball away before crossing the goal line. Carney also gave his team a first down by grabbing a Wake ball carrier who was just short of a first down and throwing him past the first-down marker.
LOSING THE SPOTLIGHT
The 11 a.m. ET start was the first of the day and was expected to be the only televised game until several noon kickoffs.
But only five minutes into the game (2:01 on the game clock), play was suspended under mostly clear skies due to a lightning delay. Heavy rain and a few lightning strikes eventually did occur causing the delay to stretch to two hours.
Vanderbilt plays at UNLV on Saturday.
Wake Forest travels to Norfolk, Virginia, for a game with Old Dominion on Saturday.
AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/college-football and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-football-poll
This story was first published Sept. 9, 2023. It was updated Sept. 11, 2023, to correct that the last name of Wake Forest’s coach is spelled Clawson, not Clausen.