Winston-Salem, N.C. - Chris Givens turned the tide, blocking a punt that set up a six-yard touchdown run by Brandon Pendergrass, extending Wake Forest's lead from a one possession game to 20-5 advantage with 10:28 before the intermission. The Demon Deacons (2-1 overall, 1-0 ACC) did not skip a beat after Givens' big play, cruising to an easy 48-5 win over Gardner-Webb (1-2 overall, 0-0 Big South).
"That was huge for us," Wake Forest head coach Jim Grobe said. "It's one of the most effective things in the game when you're able to block a punt. I don't think there's any momentum changer that's bigger than a blocked punt and I thought that was a great effort on his (Givens) part."
Wake Forest's players and coaches said all of the right things going into this weekend's contest against its FCS foe, reassuring the media that they were not overlooking the Runnin' Bulldogs. That was debatable before Givens blocked the punt.
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Kyle Wilber and Merrill Noel both said linebackers Scott Betros and Riley Haynes were getting after the defense, as they struggled to slow down the Runnin' Bulldogs.
"They were saying let's put our foot on the peddle, and keep it going," Noel said. "These guys came to upset us, and we can't take them lightly."
And that is exactly what Gardner-Webb came to do. As ESPN analyst and ex-NFL coach Herm Edwards once said, "You play to win the game." It appeared that had to sink into the Deacs psyche after they were held to a field goal on the game's opening drive, then gave up a 40-yard bomb to Greensboro Dudley product James Perry III that set up a 27-yard field goal by Trever Austin that tied the game at 3-3 with 8:13 left in the opening period.
G-W's defense threw everything but the kitchen sink at Wake, hurling multiple looks and blitz packages at the Deacs. That combined with Steven Chase getting his first start at left tackle in place of the injured Dennis Godfrey (broken finger) was difficult to overcome early, as Tanner Price was sacked twice.
"We didn't really have an idea of what they were doing initially," Price said. "It was tough for the offensive line to pick up some of those blitzes they were doing, as they game wore on we were able to get a better understanding to what they were doing. I think we did a good job of picking it up."
And pick it up they did. Wake Forest rolled up 454 yards of total offense, with Price churning out his second three-touchdown passing performance in three games. The Texas native completed 21-32 passes for 281 yards and no interceptions. He also rushed for a touchdown on a quarterback sneak.
The emerging star of the offense continues to be senior wide receiver Danny Dembry, who pulled in a career best eight receptions for 126 yards.
"You can't really say enough good things about Danny," Givens said. "He's blocking, he's running the ball well, catching the ball well. He's really doing well. I'm really proud of how Danny's been playing."
Givens blocked punt, Price's overall performance and Dembry's continued success were not the only bright spots for the Demon Deacons, as they were able to build a commanding 34-5 lead with 11:01 remaining in the third quarter, enabling Grobe and his staff to sub liberally.
Ted Stachitas, who has been stricken by injuries during most of his collegiate career shone brightly, evading pressure on his way to a 21-yard touchdown run that choked the last bit of life out of Gardner-Webb, extending the Deacs lead to a 41-5 margin with 9:54 remaining in the third quarter.
Right tackle Doug Weaver said it was nice as a veteran to see some of the younger players get in, and help them along.
This is exactly the type of win the Doctor ordered for Wake Forest as it goes into its bye week before going to Boston College Oct. 1. The Demon Deacons were challenged early, but were able to overcome and dominate the Runnin' Bulldogs, reinforcing their confidence while also providing some things to work on.
"I think our kids adjusted well and our coaches did a good job getting the kids settled down," Grobe said. "We drew up some plays on the sidelines and got them where they needed to be."