DeaconsIllustrated - Deacons edge N.C. State for Atlantic Division control
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Deacons edge N.C. State for Atlantic Division control

Wake Forest's Justice Ellison celebrates a touchdown.
Wake Forest's Justice Ellison celebrates a touchdown. (William Howard/USA Today Sports Images)

WINSTON-SALEM – This wasn’t aesthetically pleasing or for the faint of heart, but it didn’t have to be.

Wake Forest beat N.C. State 45-42 on Saturday night at sold-out Truist Field to bounce back from its only loss of the season, and to affirm its control of the ACC’s Atlantic Division.

The path is simple from here: Wake Forest has to win one of the next two games to punch its ticket to the ACC championship game. The Deacons are at Clemson next weekend and at Boston College to end the regular season after that.

Quarterback Sam Hartman might’ve played his worst game of the season, completing 20 of 47 passes with three interceptions. Two of the picks came within quick succession of a Wake Forest interception.

But still, style points weren’t the goal here.

Wake’s hobbled defense came up with enough plays to make amends for the embarrassment of last week. The Deacons forced three turnovers and held the Wolfpack to 74 rushing yards – its best performance against the rush of any game this season.

Wake Forest (9-1, 6-0 ACC) went ahead for good on Brandon Chapman’s 5-yard touchdown catch – the first touchdown of the sixth-year tight end’s career – with 11:07 left in the third quarter.

Justice Ellison added two touchdowns later, including one with 1:47 left that gave the Deacons enough comfort to hold on.

N.C. State scored with 45 seconds left to cut the deficit to three points, but the onside kick was fielded before it traveled 10 yards and the Deacons kneeled out the rest of the game.

There was a degree of feeling out how this would go in the first few minutes, and by the end of the first half there were enough huge plays stacked on top of each other to make heads spin.

Wake’s lead was 7-6 after the first quarter, scoring a touchdown on Sam Hartman’s 24-yard pass to A.T. Perry and having held N.C. State to a pair of field goals.

Justice Ellison punched in a 1-yard touchdown run on the second play of the second quarter, after a 34-yard catch-and-run by Ke’Shawn Williams on third-and-5 put the Deacons on the goal line.

Devin Leary and Hartman traded interceptions, though no more scores came in the second quarter until a frenetic last 2-plus minutes.

After Nick Sciba’s 53-yard field goal attempt clanged off the crossbar, JJ Roberts jarred the ball loose from Devin Carter and Traveon Redd scooped the fumble and returned to N.C. State’s 5-yard line. Hartman scored on a 5-yard keeper to give Wake Forest a 21-6 lead.

The Wolfpack ran the ensuing kickoff back to the Deacons’ 28 and scored on the next play. Wake Forest went three-and-out and punted back to the Wolfpack with less than a minute left, and N.C. State scored another touchdown to make it 21-20.

We weren’t done in the first half yet – Wake Forest ran the kickoff back to midfield and Sciba made a 45-yarder on the final play of the first half.

So, if you’re keeping track: That was 24 combined points in the last 2:05 of the first half.

Wake Forest was without three key players, two on defense and one on offense. Cornerbacks Caelen Carson and Gavin Holmes were both out, and running back Christian Beal-Smith also didn’t suit up.