WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — A Deshaun Watson two-yard rushing touchdown with 12:24 left in the second quarter put the Clemson Tigers up 28-0 over Wake Forest in what seemed sure to be a ‘name your score’ type of laugher.
But somehow, someway — the Deacs (6-5, 3-4) found their bearings on both sides of the ball and battled back, scoring the next 13-straight points before ultimately falling to Clemson (10-1, 7-1) 35-13 Saturday night at BB&T Field.
“I am proud of the way we fought back,” Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson said. “The kids battled back and we made it a game in the third quarter. Our kids fought hard, but Clemson is an excellent team. That’s one of the best football teams we’ve played in our three years here.”
Clawson looked at the big picture for his program.
“We are clearly better, and we’ve clearly made progress,” Clawson said. “There are a couple teams in the ACC that are elite, nationally-ranked teams. We are not at that level right now.
“We played two of the top-five teams in seven calendar days. The fact that these games are more competitive and we battled back — we’re making progress. We’re not at that level yet. We want to get there, but we’re not there yet.”
Freshman Kyle Kearns got a surprise first start at quarterback for the Deacs, with junior John Wolford battling ankle, knee and shoulder injuries.
“Very uneven,” Clawson said when asked how Kearns played. “We were very limited in what we were able to do. We didn’t turn it over, but we didn’t make plays. There were mistakes made, like any quarterback going through his first start. That’s a tall task.”
Kearns was 7-for-18 passing for 126 yards, and was sacked four times for -31 yards rushing.
Clemson scored touchdowns on their first four possessions to grab a 28-0 lead.
Meanwhile, the Deacs first five possessions ended in punts, with four of them being three-and-outs.
That fifth punt by Dom Maggio, however, was muffed by the Tigers and the Deacs recovered.
The Deacs converted the short field opportunity to a field goal and then executed a six-play, 64-yard drive for a touchdown on their next opportunity to close the lead to 28-10 before halftime.
A 23-yard Mike Weaver field goal got the Deacs to within two scores at 28-13 with 5:30 left in the third quarter, but Wake got no closer.
A Wayne Gallman 1-yard run for a touchdown provided the final scoring in a 35-13 victory for Clemson.
Cade Carney led the Deacs with 59 rushing yards and a touchdown on 18 attempts. Chucky Wade had 55 yards receiving on two catches. Dom Maggio punted the ball 10 times, with a career-long punt of 80 yards that registered as No. 3 all-time in program history.
Boston College (5-6) is next up for the Deacs at 3 p.m. Saturday at BB&T Field.
“I’m proud of our guys,” Clawson said. “We’ve got six wins and we’re going to try like crazy to get No. 7 next week. Then we’ll have a chance to have a lot of practices and go to a bowl. We still have a lot to play for.
“It’s a one-week season, and BC has to be our Super Bowl.”