The Wake faithful who showed up at BB&T Field today saw a team they came into the season hoping to see.
They saw a team with an imposing offensive line brawny and cohesive enough to impose its will on the opponent, especially as the game wore on and the defense wore down.
They saw a team with a resourceful defense that made the stops that had to be made.
They saw a team that bounced back from early-season stumbles to get better and better week by week.
They saw a team that stunned all the experts by marching inexorably to a division title and a berth in the ACC championship.
And they filed out of BB&T Field wishing if only it had been their team who showed all that and not the visiting Pitt Panthers.
The 34-13 setback to Pitt was all but in the cards going into this one. The Panthers were on a big-time roll and besides that, they’ve proven over the back half of the season to be pretty damn good. And Wake, for all the pluck it showed in the first half, appeared spent, done, kaput as the clock and Pitt rolled own.
If nothing else, what we saw today made last week’s upset of N.C. State appear all the more remarkable. But Pitt did what the Wolfpack was unable to do, which was wear the thread-bare Deacons’ defense to the nub by the midway point of the fourth quarter. And quarterback Jamie Newman was unable to do what he did a week ago, which was to stand in the pocket and make the throws that have to be made to pull off the kind of stunner Wake pulled last week.
The fans were undoubtedly grumbling when Dave Clawson chose to kick the field goal trailing 20-10 with 12 ½ minutes to go. But what I felt at the time proved to be the case.
It really didn’t matter. Nothing less than a Panther turnover was going to give Wake any chance whatsoever to be in the game at the end.
There’s no statistic in football – and may not be in all of sports – bigger than the turnover. A team can drive the ball 98 yards and fumble on the one, and have nothing other than field position to show for all those runs and passes and first downs.
If the Deacons were going to do anything really special this season they were going to have to win the turnover-margin, and perhaps even handily. I was happy to see that my guy Evan Lepler had the opportunity to stay at home and handle the play-by-play duties for the Fox Sports South telecast, and as he pointed out so astutely, a Wake team has never lost the turnover margin and made a bowl.
With the two interceptions Newman threw today, the Deacons are minus-9 on turnovers for the season. What really jumps out, though, is that Wake has now played 11 games while intercepting only four passes.
The secondary was a big-time question mark going into the season, and unfortunately for Clawson and his staff, that question has been answered.
So the Deacons have one more chance – next week at Duke – to win a sixth game and make a bowl for a third-straight season. All the countless hours they have put in since the end of last season – all the windsprints, all the off-season workouts, all the blood, sweat and tears left on the field – will come down to 60 minutes at Wallace Wade Stadium.
For Wake to even still have a chance at a bowl at this late stage is, to me, impressive. But to the Black and Gold faithful who made the final game at BB&T Field, that’s not anywhere near as impressive as that team from Pittsburgh that rolled to a Coastal Division title.
Congrats to Pat Narduzzi and his Panthers for a job well-done.