Wake Forest looked like a team on a mission for most of the first half against the Miami, but when every possible thing went wrong for the Demon Deacons in the final minutes of the game, the Hurricanes managed to sneak up and capture the come-from-behind victory 28-27.
Going into the fourth quarter Wake held a 27-14 advantage. Wake began the quarter receiving a punt from Hurricanes and drove down to the Miami 27 for a field goal attempt. Freshman kicker Jimmy Newman's 45 yard attempt missed wide left, giving the ball back to Miami. Wake's defense responded, holding on three consecutive plays and forcing a punt, and that is when everything started to go wrong.
Devon Brown was deep to receive the punt from Matt Bosher and had to backpedal to the 14 yard line to receive the punt. Turning almost completely backwards to bring it in, Brown bobbled the catch and ultimately fumbled it backwards as Miami's Sam Shields recovered the ball at the two yard line. The Hurricanes scored on the next play.
"I catch to secure it usually; I catch it and crouch down," explained Brown. "This time I crouched and the ball hit my leg as I was coming down and the ball came out. It was a good punt and the rain was coming down a little bit but that's not an excuse. That's my job; I'm back there to catch the punts. We always talk about 100 percent possession no matter what and I just let it get away from me."
"That one dropped punt was really the difference in the game. It changed all the momentum. If I had just made that one more play then it could have been a different outcome."
The Demon Deacons could have easily been ahead 30-14 with possession of the ball, but instead found themselves clinging to a slim six point margin, 27-21.
Two possessions later Wake still held the same lead and was working to drive the ball down field and continue to run time off the clock. On a third and eight play from his own 17 yard line Riley Skinner rushed right for 12 yards to pick up the first down, but took a shot to the head on his way down. It was immediately clear Skinner was woozy, and he was forced to leave the game with a concussion.
Senior backup Ryan McManus was forced into action and did his best to still lead the Deacons to victory. Over the next seven minutes McManus did what he could, completing five of nine passes for 42 yards, and it was nearly enough. Wake looked like they were moving into scoring position when a holding call on Barrett McMillin backed Wake up and led to a punt.
Wake's defense nearly succeeded in stopping Miami, even forcing them into a fourth and 16 situation from the 41 yard line, but Jacory Harris found a receiver open over the middle for 29 yards and then found the endzone two plays later, taking a 28-27 lead.
McManus attempted to lead the team into scoring position with the remaining 1:08 on the clock, but could only advance the ball as far as the 43 yard line. With only four seconds on the clock Wake elected to attempt a 60 yard field goal which didn't come close, landing five yards short and right of the goal posts and sealing the Deacons fate.
"There was thought to [going for a Hail Mary]," said head coach Jim Grobe. "We've actually hit 57 yarders on a regular basis in practice. We felt like he's capable of making it if he hits it right and he just didn't get it as good as he can."
In the first quarter the Wake Defense forced three Miami punts and scored on each of their two possessions, opening up a 10-0 lead. Except for stalling at the five yard line on their first offensive possession and settling for a field goal, it was practically a perfect quarter for the Deacs.
Wake opened up the second quarter with another touchdown on a 7 yard QB scramble by Skinner and Wake was suddenly up 17-0. At that point Miami began to claw their way back into the game, scoring a quick touchdown to cut the lead to 17-7. Wake added a field goal with less than two minutes left in the half but a squib kick on the ensuing kickoff gave Miami good field position.
The defense had played very well up to that point, but they looked very soft on that possession. It took Miami less than a minute to drive 65 yards for a touchdown, cutting Wake's halftime lead to only 6 points, 20-14.
In the third quarter Wake scored their only points of the second half on a 44 yard completion from Skinner to Chris Givens, but soon after the unfortunate mistakes began to pile up.
"We had opportunities to make plays in the second half and we just didn't make enough plays to beat a good football team, said Grobe. "When you are playing a top 20 team with the kind of skills they've got, they are going to make some plays and unfortunately they made one more than we did."
The loss was clearly painful for the Deacs, but Wake must now face the possibility that Riley Skinner may be unavailable next week at Georgia Tech or even beyond.
"Concussions are funny, you just really don't know. You have to be really, really cautious. In the old days you get knocked out and they throw you right back in the mix and we found thatâ€™s not a good thing. You can start having a series of those over and over. We'll do what's best for Riley Skinner and not what's the best for the football team."