WINSTON-SALEM, N.C.--- Very little came easy for Wake Forest Saturday night in its season opener against Liberty at BB&T Field, but the Demon Deacons came up big at times defensively and made just enough plays offensively to claim a 20-17 victory that was too close for comfort for everyone involved with the Old Gold and Black.
The first quarter largely belonged to Liberty, as the Flames held the Demon Deacons scoreless and got the game's first score seven minutes in on a 37-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Brian Hudson to Elliott Dutra.
Wake Forest answered midway through the second quarter, as Tanner Price found veteran flanker Michael Campanaro for a 31-yard score that tied the game. Campanaro finished with nine receptions for 96 yards for the Deacs.
The game went into the locker rooms for halftime tied at 7, but Liberty quickly struck in the first three minutes of the third quarter on Hudson's second touchdown pass---this one a 14-yarder to SirChauncey Holloway---to make the score 14-7 in favor of Liberty.
Wake Forest's offense sputtered through much of the third quarter but the Demon Deacons made a big play on defense, as the defensive line got some pressure and A.J. Marshall stepped in front of a Hudson pass, intercepting it and taking it 39 yards to the end zone to tie the game at the 5:19 mark of the third period.
The Deacs took their first lead of the contest in the opening minute of the fourth quarter on a two-yard run from Deandre Martin, who played heavily in the absence of Josh Harris. Martin had 21 carries for 74 yards on the evening.
Harris missed most of the game after suffering a mild concussion in the first half. He had five carries for no yards.
Wake missed the extra point following Martin's fourth quarter score, so they held a 20-14 lead until Liberty place kicker John Lunsford connected on a 49-yard field goal with eleven minutes to play.
Needless to say it was a struggle most of the night offensively for Wake Forest, as the Deacons were held under 300 yards offensively and statistically saw Liberty out-produce them in first downs, total plays, and passing yards.
But Wake's defensive effort was mostly a bright spot, as the Demon Deacons got three sacks, forced seven punts, produced two turnovers (one interception, one recovered fumble), and held Liberty to under 100 rushing yards for the game.
Liberty had the ball in the final four minutes and drove into Demon Deacon territory as a nervous quiet held over BB&T Field for several minutes.
But Wake Forest's defense, as it did throughout much of the second half, held strong, forcing the Flames into a fourth-and-eight at the 1:31 mark.
On Liberty's final offensive play from scrimmage it looked as though the Flames were going to extend the chains with a brilliant downfield catch, but the ball hit the ground at the last second for an incompletion to preserve Wake's three-point triumph.
The loss spoiled the debut of former Buffalo and Kansas head coach Turner Gill at Liberty.
Stay tuned for more postgame coverage here at DeaconsIllustrated.com from Wake Forest's season-opening triumph Saturday night.