Wake Forest rolls in Gator Bowl

Wake Forest receiver A.T. Perry leaps over a Rutgers defender during the Demon Deacons’ Gator Bowl win on New Year’s Eve in Jacksonville, Florida. (PJ Ward-Brown / North State Journal)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Wake Forest matched its best season in program history with a 38-10 win over Rutgers in the Gator Bowl on New Year’s Eve.

The Demon Deacons pulled away from the Scarlet Knights in the second half to cap an 11-3 season that saw Wake play in the ACC Championship Game after winning the Atlantic Division. The Deacs also finished 11-3 in 2006, when they won the ACC.

Rutgers was given a late bowl bid after Texas A&M dropped out of the game due to a COVID outbreak. Despite being 5-7 entering the game, the Scarlet Knights exchanged scores with Wake into the second quarter before the Demon Deacons scored the final 24 points of the game to break open what was a 14-10 contest.

Rutgers gained 141 yards on those first two scoring drives but managed just 130 the rest of the game.

“I was going to fire our defensive coordinator,” said Wake coach Dave Clawson, “but that was me.”

Wake coordinator Lyle Hemphill left following the regular season to join former Deacs coordinator Mike Elko’s staff at Duke.

“When you try to put together a game plan and the guy that’s been around the defense the whole year isn’t there, it was a team effort,” Clawson said.

Clawson, who has a background as an offensive coach, joked that he put in plays “that I hate to see” from a defense, then backed off when Rutgers was ready for the aggressive attack.

Quarterback Sam Hartman finished the game 23 of 39 for 304 yards and three touchdowns, becoming just the third player in ACC history to throw for 50 scores in a season, joining Lamar Jackson and Deshaun Watson. He also became the ninth ACC quarterback in history to pass for 4,000 yards, finishing fifth all-time.

Hartman was named the game’s MVP.

Wake won a bowl game for the first time since 2018 and the fourth time in the current string of six straight years with a postseason bid. Only Clemson and Miami have longer current streaks. It was Wake’s first win in Jacksonville since the 2006 ACC Championship Game and the first Gator Bowl win since the first time the game was held, in 1946.

A.T. Perry had 10 catches for 127 yards and a touchdown, while tight end Brandon Chapman caught two touchdowns.

Clawson credited Rutgers for playing such a strong game on short notice.

“Those guys thought their season was over four weeks ago,” he said. “To want the game, accept it and play the way they did, I certainly don’t feel that we outcoached them.”