Bowl week bonanza: Wake Forest ready for Charlotte game, local products prepping for Clemson, UNC and N.C. State bowl games
By Richard Walker
Wake Forest’s will look to keep its record perfect in Charlotte’s annual bowl game on Wednesday with the help of a local kicker in a season filled with distractions caused by COVID-19.
“We are looking forward to the challenge of playing a really good Wisconsin football program,” Deacons coach David Clawson said in a Tuesday morning zoom news conference. “We’ve had some good practices and we’ve made the best of it during this pandemic.”
The Deacons (4-4) have survived a season that’s seen them lose fourth-quarter leads in road losses at N.C. State and North Carolina and having four games cancelled due to COVID-19 issues.
“It’s a great opportunity,” said quarterback Sam Hartman, a Charlottean who played at Davidson Day School and Mt. Pleasant, S.C., Oceanside Collegiate before going to Wake Forest. “It’s a little bit of a homecoming and a little bit of redemption for not having the Notre Dame game.”
In addition to losing games against Duke, Miami and Florida State, the Deacons were slated to host Notre Dame in the Duke’s Mayo Classic earlier this season before that game was also cancelled due to COVID-19.
In this season of such turbulence, 2018 Clover High graduate Nick Sciba has been as consistent as ever. Named third team All-ACC kicker, Sciba converted all 31 extra points and 14 of 17 field goals, including his last 12 in a row.
“Nick’s been outstanding,” Clawson said. “He’s one of the best kickers in the nation.”
Wake Forest’s season began with another local product, 2017 Lincolnton High graduate Sage Surratt opting out of the season to focus on the 2021 NFL Draft.
Other Deacons have since opted out but a team meeting after a disappointing 59-53 loss at North Carolina is considered a season-saving moment.
“The mental exhausition on the team was taking its toll,” Clawson said of the mood before a player-led team zoom meeting. “It’s hard to have great leadership without conflict at times. And we got to a point where the guys who love football wanted to keep going.”
Wake Forest led N.C. State 42-38 in the fourth quarter of a 48-45 road loss on Sept. 19. And the Deacons were ahead of the Tar Heels 45-24 in the third quarter before what became a school-record North Carolina rally in the Tar Heels’ come-from-behind victory on Nov. 14.
The Deacons have played only once since that Nov. 14 game – a 45-21 loss at Louisville on Dec. 12.
Wisconsin had two games cancelled but has played five of its six games since Nov. 14; The 3-3 Badgers beat Illinois, Michigan and Minnesota while losing to Northwestern, Indiana and Iowa.
“They might be in more of a rhythm because they played on the 19th,” Clawson said of Wisconsin’s last game, a 20-17 overtime victory over Minnesota on Dec. 19. “The situation is what it is and we’re going to make the best of it.”
Wake Forest has previously won the Charlotte bowl game in 2007 and 2017; The Deacons beat Connecticut 24-10 in 2007 and outlasted Texas A&M 55-52 in 2017 in one of the highest-scoring bowl games in college football history.
The Deacons are making their school-record fifth straight postseason bowl appearance.
Charlotte’s bowl history with years and name of the bowl games that have all been played at the NFL Carolina Panthers’ Bank of America Stadium:
(Continental Tire Bowl)
2002 – Virginia 48, West Virginia 22
2003 – Virginia 23, Pittsburgh 16
2004 – Boston College 37, North Carolina 24
(Meineke Car Care Bowl)
2005 – NC State 14, South Florida 0
2006 – Boston College 25, Navy 24
2007 – Wake Forest 24, Connecticut 10
2008 – West Virginia 31, North Carolina 30
2009 – Pittsburgh 19, North Carolina 17
2010 – South Florida 31, Clemson 26
2011 – NC State 31, Louisville 24
2012 – Cincinnati 48, Duke 34
2013 – North Carolina 39, Cincinnati 17
2014 – Georgia 37, Louisville 14
2015 – Mississippi State 51, N.C. State 28
2016 – Virginia Tech 35, Arkansas 24
2017 – Wake Forest 55, Texas A&M 52
2018 – Virginia 28, South Carolina 0
2019 – Kentucky 37, Virginia Tech 30
(Duke’s Mayo Bowl)
2020 – Wake Forest vs. Wisconsin
Other bowl games
Local products are prepping to play in three other bowl games – and the potential for a fourth for one team.
The biggest news is that former Ashbrook High standout British Brooks is now listed as a potential starting running back for No. 13 North Carolina in Saturday’s Orange Bowl against No. 5 Texas A&M.
Brooks, a 2018 Ashbrook graduate, had 46 yards rushing and two tackles in 11 games and won postseason top honors for the Tar Heels’ special teams. Brooks and Josh Henderson are listed as co-starters following the decisions of 1,000-yard running backs Javonte Williams and Michael Carter to opt out of the game to prepare for the 2021 NFL Draft.
Also opting out of the UNC bowl game is 2016 East Lincoln High graduate Chazz Surratt. A linebacker, Surratt had team-highs in tackles (91) and quarterback sacks (6) while earning All-ACC honors for the second straight season.
Tight end Kendall Karr (Stuart Cramer 2020 graduate), wide receiver Ray Rose (South Point 2020) and long snapper Spencer Triplett (Shelby 2020) are other local players on the UNC roster.
No. 2 Clemson (10-1) is prepping for Friday’s College Football Playoff semifinal against No. 3 Ohio State (6-0) in New Orleans. For Clemson, Lannden Zanders (Crest 2017) has 27 tackles (2 1-2 for losses) and one forced fumble in nine games (eight starts). Also on the Tigers roster are defensive end Justin Foster (Crest 2017) and linebacker Matt McMahon (North Lincoln 2018).
A Clemson victory would advance it into the Jan. 11 national championship game against the winner of the other Jan. 1 semifinal matching No. 4 Notre Dame against No. 1 Alabama in Arlington, Tex.
And No. 23 N.C. State (8-3) meets Kentucky on Saturday in the Gator Bowl against Kentucky (4-6). Jaylon Scott (Shelby 2019), listed as the Wolfpack’s backup middle linebacker, has nine tackles and a 17-yard interception return in 11 games. Former East Lincoln standout Jalen Frazier also is on the N.C. State roster.