The Belk Bowl did not disappoint.
In a game that took more than four hours, Wake Forest was able to outlast Texas A&M in a shootout, 55-52, in one of the highest-scoring bowl games ever.
With the teams combining for 1,260 yards, the game wasn’t exactly a sterling display of defense. But after taking the 55-52 lead on a Matt Colburn touchdown run with 2:18 to play, the Demon Deacons were able to get a stop, sealing Wake Forest’s first eight-win season since 2008.
However, there was a bit of controversy on that last drive. With 45 seconds to go and the Aggies at midfield, A&M quarterback Nick Starkel looked for Jhamon Ausbon on a deep ball. As Ausbon extended for the ball inside the 5-yard line, he appeared to be interfered with by Wake DB Essang Bassey — but there was no flag.
A delay of game and three more incomplete passes followed, resulting in a turnover on downs for A&M and wrapping up the victory for the Deacs.
A&M jumped out to an early 14-0 lead, but Wake responded in a big way. By the 12:21 mark of the second quarter, the Demon Deacons turned the 14-point deficit into a 31-14 lead behind three touchdown passes from John Wolford, a field goal and a 59-yard punt return touchdown from Jessie Bates.
But A&M, playing with Jeff Banks as interim coach for the fired Kevin Sumlin, did not wilt and was able to cut the Wake lead to 38-28 at halftime. Star wideout Christian Kirk played a big role in that by catching two touchdown passes in the second quarter.
Kirk, who caught 13 passes for 189 yards in what was likely his final collegiate game, added a third score to open the third quarter to get his team within three, 38-35. After a Wake field goal, A&M took its first lead since the first quarter on a one-yard TD plunge by Keith Ford.
It was a back-and-forth affair from there with the lead changing hands three times in the fourth. A&M went ahead 52-48 with 5:52 to play but Wolford led the Demon Deacons right down the field in 13 plays to retake the lead for good on Colburn’s one-yard score.
Wolford, the game’s MVP, finished with 400 yards and four touchdowns on 32-of-49 throwing. He also contributed 68 yards rushing, second on the team behind Colburn’s 150 yards.
Wolford, a four-year starter, certainly ended his career on a high note. His senior season was by far the best of his career and showed the growth of the Wake Forest program under Dave Clawson. The Demon Deacons went 3-9 in Clawson’s first two seasons before improving to 7-6 last year. All the while, the team was very, very conservative on offense and relied on its defense to win games. This year, the coaching staff took the reins off and opened things up.
Clawson explained the change to The Athletic’s Chris Vannini:
Loved Dave Clawson’s explanation last month for Wake Forest’s offensive explosion this year. This is good coaching and trust. pic.twitter.com/bUwMwjH5ZG
— Chris Vannini (@ChrisVannini) December 29, 2017
That offensive skill was certainly on display against the Aggies. And now Wake Forest has bowl wins in consecutive seasons for the second time in program history.
On the other side, Texas A&M finishes the year with a 7-6 record. The Aggies have a lot of talent, but Friday showed that new head coach Jimbo Fisher has some work to do to get the Aggies to contend in the SEC West.
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