JACKSONVILLE - The 2021 Wake Forest football team capped off its historic season on New Year’s Eve, defeating Big Ten foe Rutgers in the 77th annual TaxSlayer Gator Bowl 38-10 inside TIAA Bank …
JACKSONVILLE - The 2021 Wake Forest football team capped off its historic season on New Year’s Eve, defeating Big Ten foe Rutgers in the 77th annual TaxSlayer Gator Bowl 38-10 inside TIAA Bank Field on Friday.
“Just a great team win. Really proud, first of all, of our seniors,” said Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson, after the game. “Just the leadership that they’ve given us and the resolve and the buy-in. Some of them for four, some of them for five, and some of them for six years.”
Unfortunately, a stellar game at linebacker from junior Ryan Smenda, Jr., a Fleming Island High School graduate, was ended abruptly with a controversial targeting call on a tackle of Rutgers quarterback Gavin Wimsatt in the third period. Smenda was tracking Wimsatt as he exited his pocket and headed downfield for a short gain where he ended on a quarterback slide with Smenda flying over his sliding body. Smenda’s elbow struck the side of Wimsatt’s helment on the way over as Smenda appeared to try and avoid contact with Wimsatt. Both quickly jumped up from the turf and headed to their respective huddles apparently with no thought of the interaction. A lengthy discussion ensued with three officials and Wake Forest coach Dave Clawsom before Smenda was ejected.
“Live, I didn’t think he him and then I didn’t think he hit him in the replay,” said Clawson, in a postgame interview. “Obviously, if they ruled it a targeting; I lost my mind a bit, and I apologized to the officials.”
Smenda finished with six tackles with six solos and one for a loss.
No. 17 Wake Forest (11-3, 7-1 ACC) became just the second team in program history to win double-digit games and tied the program record with 11 victories while also setting a program record with seven conference victories and finished the home season with a perfect 6-0 mark.
Rutgers University, after agreeing to fly to Florida for the game after Texas A & M dropped out to due COVID and injuries, flew in on Thursday after practices up in New Jersey.
“First off, I want to give a lot of credit to Rutgers and coach Greg Schiano. There’s not a lot of teams that would do that,” said Clawson. “Greg and I have been friends for over 30 years. I think he is one of the best football coaches in the country, and he sees the big picture. I think a lot of programs might not want to play if they don’t think they can win, and we knew we were going to be a favorite, and Greg knew that too, but he takes a very big-picture approach, which good leaders do, and he knows this bowl experience is going to help Rutgers build a really good program.”
Clawson became the first coach in program history to win four bowl games as all four titles have come during the Deacs current six-game bowl appearance streak. This run ranks as the second-longest in the ACC, trailing just Clemson.
The Deacs forced Rutgers (5-8, 2-7 Big Ten) to turn the ball over twice as Zion Keith and Gavin Holmes snared their first interceptions of the season. The Deacs limited the Scarlet Knights to just 271 total yards in the game, including 106 yards rushing.
Redshirt sophomore quarterback Sam Hartman ended his historic single-season campaign with Gator Bowl MVP honors. The Charlotte, N.C. native tossed three touchdown passes in the game and threw for 304 yards.
Fellow redshirt sophomore A.T. Perry collected 10 of Hartman’s passes for 127 yards and pulled in his 15th touchdown reception of the season, tied for the fifth-most in conference history. Seniors Traveon Redd and Luke Masterson led Wake Forest’s defense with seven tackles apiece in their final game in the Old Gold & Black.
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