A few of minutes into its Belk Bowl matchup with Texas A&M, things were looking bleak for Wake Forest. After 30 minutes of play, the roles were decidedly reversed as the Demon Deacons have taken a 38-28 lead into the halftime locker room in what’s the highest-scoring half in the game’s history.
After a little more than two minutes had run off the first-quarter clock, A&M, playing in its first game since Kevin Sumlin was fired and Jimbo Fisher was hired, had taken the lead on a block punt that was recovered for a touchdown, the school’s first block punt since 2005. Less than two minutes later, and after an Aggie got his hand on a second punt, Trayveon Williams scored from a yard out to push the lead to 14-0.
The following 13 or so minutes belonged to Wake, though, as the Demon Deacons scored the next 31 points to take a double-digit lead of their own early in the second quarter. Senior John Wolford extended his stunning turnaround regular season into the postseason as he passed for four first-half touchdowns. Prior to 2017, Wolford had thrown more interceptions (35) than touchdowns (30); this season, including today’s game, he’s thrown 29 touchdowns against just six picks.
Not to be outdone by A&M, Wake scored its own special teams touchdown, with Jessie Bates‘ 59-yard punt return stretching the lead to 31-14 with just over 12 minutes remaining in the second quarter. That unit was not-so-special for Wake for most of the game, however, as, in addition to the two blocked punts, they had a field goal blocked as well.
And A&M’s interim head coach? Special teams coordinator Jeff Banks.
That blocked field goal in the middle of the second quarter gave the Aggies a modicum of momentum as they turned that special teams play into a score two plays later, Nick Starkel hitting Christian Kirk, likely playing his last game for the Aggies, on a 52-yard touchdown pass to cut the lead to 31-21 with 7:31 left in the half. Wolford’s fourth scoring toss, this one 37 yards to tight end Cam Serigne with 4:33 remaining, pushed the lead back out to 17.
The momentum shifted back to A&M right before halftime, however, as Starkel hit Kirk for a second touchdown with 18 seconds left to pull them back to within 10 at 38-28.
The Demon Deacons racked up 385 yards of offense — Wolford had 256 passing against A&M’s depleted secondary — to 306 for the Aggies. Matt Colburn chipped in with 87 yards on the ground on 10 carries, with a long run of 66.
This marks the sixth time this season that A&M’s defense has given up 35 points or more in a game.
Kirk, meanwhile, already has a season-high 133 yards receiving on six catches. Starkel has thrown for 313 yards in just two quarters worth of work; the freshman’s season- and career-high, 416 yards, is well within reach with 30 minutes to play.
Wake is looking to win back-to-back bowl games for the first time since 2007-08, while A&M is trying to snap a three-game bowl losing streak. If the Aggies can mount a second-half comeback, they will hit eight wins for the fourth consecutive season.