Bowls Bring Out Best

Betting has never been my thing. While writing sports for a living, I figured that doing so might get me into ethical places best avoided.

So I avoided them.

But if the betting bug ever does bite me, I know one rule of thumb to go by. If Wake plays in a bowl, bet the Deacons.

I didn’t need to see Wake outlast Texas A&M 55-52 in today’s Belk Bowl shootout to know that the Deacons are smart money in a 13th game played around Christmas at a neutral site. And I have a pretty good notion why.

Motivation can be an iffy commodity for some bowl teams, those used to going to this bowl or that bowl season after season.

Motivation to play in a bowl has never been a problem at Wake, and it shows in the school’s recent bowl record.

The first bowl game I ever saw Wake play, in Orlando’s Tangerine Bowl of 1979, the Deacons got crushed 34-10 by LSU. But in their nine bowl games since, the Deacons have won seven.

And as for the two they lost, to Louisville in the 2007 Orange Bowl and to Mississippi State in the 2011 Music City Bowl, it was anybody’s game going down the stretch.

All bowl victories are to be cherished at Wake, but today’s performance has to rank as one of the great wins in the history of the school. In beating an SEC opponent – albeit one that had sagged low enough to get its coach cashiered – the Deacons finished 8-5.

History, unlike betting, has always been my thing. So it’s a big deal when this team, Dave Clawson’s fourth, becomes only the sixth in school history to win as many as eight games.

It’s also a big deal when the Deacons win back-to-back bowls for only the second time, the first being victories by Jim Grobe’s teams in 2007 and 2008. Clawson has certainly proved to be everything Ron Wellman could have hoped he would be when Wellman went with him over Pete Lembo after Grobe’s fifth straight losing season of 2013.

Lembo, in case you haven’t been keeping up, last season left his gig as Ball State’s head coach – where he was 8-16 over his past two seasons – in favor of an assistant coaching job at Maryland. Reports say he took a pay cut to do so.

Work remains for Clawson to get Wake where he wants it to be.

The offense made mind-boggling strides from last season. It’s hard to believe that many of the same players we watched play offense for the Deacons in 2014 and 2015 were on the field today while Wake was rolling to 646 yards, six touchdowns and two Mike Weaver field goals.

For the longest time it appeared that 646 yards and 55 points would not be enough. Truth be told, it might not have been if that referee hadn’t decided to swallow his whistle in watching cornerback Essang Bassey of Wake pull freshman receiver Jhamon Ausbon to the ground deep in Deacon territory with 45 seconds left.

Every fan for every team in every sport always thinks their team gets a raw deal from the officials. It’s human nature, and I’ve certainly seen Wake come up on the short end of the stick more than a time or two over the years.

The break went Wake’s way today, and because of that I got to see the tears glistening in Clawson’s eyes as he was asked about the contributions of his seniors. I also got to see one of those seniors, one of my all-time favorites, John Wolford, standing on the podium afterward and accept the award as the game’s most valuable player.

When I decided to retire in August, I told Wolford to make me sorry I did. For all the fun I’ve had these past four months, today Johnny Football almost succeeded in granting my request.

Almost.

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