If there were ever a game that was decidedly DBYOD (Don’t Bring Your Own Defense), this was it.
Twice in the first half of the Belk Bowl, Wake Forest (8-5) took 17-point leads on Texas A&M (7-6). Instead of packing it in, though, the Aggies ratcheted up the effort under interim head coach Jeff Banks to turn a potential rout into a wildly tight affair, although in the end it was the Demon Deacons that prevailed and head home with a hard-fought 55-52 win stuffed into its back pocket.
The two teams combined for 1,260 yards of offense — 646 for Wake, 614 for A&M. The combined yardage set a Belk Bowl record, as did the combined points and total plays (190).
Despite the offensive numbers, it was a pair of defensive plays on the part of the Aggies that shifted the momentum and nearly led to a disastrous Demon Deacons loss. One forced fumble late in the third quarter led to a Keith Ford touchdown that, at 42-41, gave A&M its first lead of the game since the middle of the first quarter. On the Demon Deacons’ ensuing possession, another forced fumble was recovered and ultimately led to a 19-yard field goal early in the fourth.
A one-yard touchdown run by Cade Carney four minutes later gave the lead back to Wake at 48-45 with 9:06 left in the game; Nick Starkel‘s touchdown pass a little over three minutes later pushed the lead back in favor of A&M at 52-48.
Once again it was Wake’s turn for a comeback, with a 13-play, 69-yard drive capped by Matt Colburn‘s one-yard touchdown run with just north of two minutes left proving to be the winning score. A&M had one final chance to either tie it and send it into overtime or win it outright, but its last drive — and a questionable no-call on what appeared to be defensive pass interference — ended just shy of midfield as they turned the ball over on downs.
John Wolford passed for 400 yards and four touchdowns, all in the first half, as part of the win. On the ground, Colburn led all rushers with 150 yards on 21 carries.
Wolford, incidentally, continued his stunning turnaround regular season into the postseason. Prior to 2017, Wolford had thrown more interceptions (35) than touchdowns (30) in three years; this season, including today’s game, he’s thrown 29 touchdowns against just six picks.
Aggies wide receiver Christian Kirk, playing in what’s expected to be his last game at the collegiate level, caught a career-high 13 passes for 182 yards and a Belk Bowl-record three touchdown catches. The triggerman of A&M’s offense, the freshman Starkel, passed for a career-high 499 yards in a losing effort.
With the win, Wake won back-to-back bowl games for the first time since 2007-08.