Wake Forest started fast, then hung on for dear life to score a 24-18 win over North Carolina on Friday night, an important win over an ACC opponent for the Deacons as they prepare for their conference schedule, in the ACC.
If that doesn’t make sense, it shouldn’t. These Tar Heel State neighbors and ACC bunk mates, who played on an annual basis from 1919 through 2004, scheduled a non-conference series for tonight and 2021 in Chapel Hill to circumvent a bloated ACC schedule that saw them play just twice between 2015 and 2024 and only six times in the 20 seasons between 2005 and ’24.
As for the actual game, it started slow for both squads and even slower for UNC.
After seven punts to open the game, North Carolina (2-1, 0-0 ACC) saw its first successful offensive play of the game — a 17-yard Javonte Williams run — end in disaster, as he fumbled it away at his own 20, setting up a 2-play touchdown drive for the Demon Deacons.
Wake Forest (3-0, 0-0 ACC) didn’t need UNC’s help adding to the lead. The Deacons went 78 yards in five plays to push the lead to 14-0 to open the second quarter on Deacons quarterback Jamie Newman‘s second rushing touchdown, then increased the margin to 21 points through a 5-play, 85-yard march punctuated by a 51-yard bomb from Newman to Sage Surratt.
The lead could have been 28-0 or 24-0 at the half but, facing a 4th-and-1 from the UNC 6 with 5:56 left in the first half, Dave Clawson elected to go for it and paid the price when Kenneth Walker III was stuffed for no gain.
North Carolina finally got off the mat midway through the third quarter, converting its first third down on its 12th try, but its 56-yard march was halted when Sam Howell, who threw for 15 yards in the first half and was temporarily pulled for back up Jace Ruder in the second quarter, took a third down sack and the Tar Heels were forced to settle for a 49-yard Noah Ruggles boot.
Howell, pulled for a drive in the second quarter, dusted off that drive-killing sack and started to heat up for the Heels, finding Dyami Brown for 55 yards, taking the ball from the UNC 33 to the Wake 14. An 11-yard swing pass to Michael Carter put North Carolina in the end zone for the first time of the game at the 9:21 mark of the fourth quarter and put UNC officially on the comeback trail for the third time in as many games.
Needing a drive for the first time in the second half, a dormant Wake Forest offense could not deliver; the Deacons got an 11-yard run from Walker on the first snap, but then went three-and-out after. After the punt, a red-hot UNC offense needed only five plays to go 80 yards, most of them coming on a 50-yard Carter run. Howell, by this point fully channeling the fourth quarter energy he used to lead comebacks over South Carolina and Miami, fired a 17-yard touchdown pass to Brown, then hit tight end Garrett Walston for a 2-point conversion to pull the Tar Heels within 21-18 with 6:09 remaining.
Now desperately needing offense, this time Wake got it. Newman and running back Christian Beal-Smith carried the offense down the field for a 12-play, 61-yard drive that culminated in a 34-yard Nick Sciba field goal and killed all but the final 69 seconds.
North Carolina started its potential game-winning drive with a 10-yard completion to the sideline, but then the fourth quarter magic ran out for the Tar Heels. Out of timeouts after trying to stop Wake Forest’s previous drive, Howell used 30 seconds on a 6-yard run to the UNC 42 then, with the clock running, threw a 3-yard completion to himself on a deflected pass that saw him tackled in bounds and short of the sticks with the clock running at 15 seconds and, crucially, with the sticks showing 4th-and-1. Unable to spike it, Howell handed off to Carter, who failed to get out of bounds before the clock expired, ending the game.
The win is Wake Forest’s first over the Tar Heels since 2012, but its third straight over UNC in Winston-Salem.