A sometimes ugly win, but ND prevails

It is not always clear which Notre Dame team is going to show up from game to game. On Saturday night, in Notre Dame's first-ever football matchup with Wake Forest, that was also true from quarter to quarter.

The Irish overcame a sluggish beginning and blitzed the host Demon Deacons in a third-quarter flurry, outlasting Wake Forest 24-17 for a grind-it-out victory.

This test, the first in a three-game swing against Atlantic Coast Conference opponents, was a stern one.

"Wake Forest is a good football team," Notre Dame (6-3) coach Brian Kelly said. "Skilled, well-coached. When you go on the road, you want to play the kind of football that allows you to win consistently, and that means closing games out."

Trailing by seven at the break, the Irish came out for the third quarter on a mission.

Jonas Gray carried the Irish to a tie, running 25 yards to the 1 and then plunging in from there. A three-and-out, and Notre Dame struck again, with Cierre Wood's 27-yard run setting up a 16-yard touchdown pass from Tommy Rees to Michael Floyd in the right corner of the end zone.

The Irish defense pitched a second-half shutout and held Wake Forest to 299 total yards, although the hosts did manage some big and timely offensive plays.

"I didn't think we were very sharp on two series, on both sides of the ball, to start the second half," Wake Forest (5-4) coach Jim Grobe said.

The Demon Deacons had first and goal from the 10 late in the game, but a Stephon Tuitt sack and a blown-up screen thanks to safety Harrison Smith sent Wake Forest backwards, leading to a missed field goal. Notre Dame ran out the clock from there.

"We didn't protect Tanner (Price) very well," Grobe said of his quarterback, and also pointed to another mistake, a key holding penalty that cut short a promising drive the series before.

On offense, Gray (19 carries for 91 yards) and Wood (14 carries for 88 yards) found room to run, and often made their own, running consistently and powerfully. The Irish ran the ball 35 times and passed 24.

Early on, Wake Forest showed it wasn't in awe of its high-profile visitors, jumping ahead 7-0 and maintaining the lead 17-10 at the half.

The Irish played a somewhat listless first half before the smallest crowd to see Notre Dame play football in decades (BB&T Field seats 31,500). The Demon Deacons drove down and scored on their first possession, on a 20-yard touchdown pass from Tanner Price to Brandon Pendergrass. After the two teams traded field goals, Notre Dame's Rees found wide-open Tyler Eifert on a seam route for a 38-yard touchdown pass, on a play in which the Irish appeared to catch Wake Forest's defense flat-footed and unready.

Notre Dame appeared poised to take control, or at least a lead, but the Irish stalled. Wake Forest took advantage on a late touchdown drive, with Price scrambling for key yardage, and finally Josh Harris scoring on a short touchdown run just before the end of the half.

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