100% Cotten

Sept. 8, 2008

by Stan Cotten

When Sam Swank lined up for the 41-yard field goal attempt with :08 seconds remaining against Mississippi, you could almost feel a collective flashback to Charlottesville a season ago. The circumstances were somewhat similar. Swank, the Unshakable One, trotted out on to the field with victory or defeat resting on his right instep. Few of us will ever know what that feels like. And most of us are thankful.

Swank seems indifferent. And that's just one trait that makes him one of the most dangerous kickers in America. We were shocked when he missed at Virginia. And forget about kicking from the right hash mark or in the middle of the field. I think Sam could make it from the sideline if asked to. Wherever you put it down, Sam will kick it. And make it.

As the ball sailed through the uprights on a day that unveiled the sparkling new Deacon Tower to the masses, Swank had nailed his 65th career field goal as a Demon Deacon. He's the NCAA's active career leader, and his Wake Forest record career points total ballooned to 309.

In his 40 games in an Old Gold and Black uniform, Swank has kicked a field goal in 36 of them. He's hit nine in a row going back to 2007, and his ability to hit with distance and accuracy makes Lobo's playbook a little fatter once the Deacs hit midfield. To be sure, this guy's a lethal weapon.

Against Ole Miss, once D.J. Boldin raked in a 22-yard aerial down the seam from Riley Skinner and the Rebels held on to Josh Adams who might have been breaking free to catch another long one, maybe even a touchdown, Wake and Swank were pretty much set. The emotions that sank a little just seconds earlier, when Rebel quarterback and Texas transfer Jevan Snead hit running back Brandon Bolden for the go ahead score, picked up when number 38 trotted onto BB&T Field.

And as Swank went through his pre-kick routine and got set, holder Ryan McManus suddenly stood tall and called timeout. How, in that situation with the commotion and emotion of the moment and from his kneeled position, he was able to see the play clock is beyond me. But he did, and what he saw wasn't good. And that little assist may have been the difference. It certainly saved five yards. And on a day when the wind had swirled and blown pretty much in the face of those heading toward Bridger Fieldhouse, I thought the five yards at that moment were pretty big.

"I didn't really feel the wind in my face," Swank admitted to me in the locker room after the game. "It had been blowing around all day, but when I lined up the flags on the uprights were still."

And so was the entire stadium as Swank's boot sailed through with room - a lot of it - to spare. Then came the eruption. Only then came the relief.

"We knew they were a good team," Jim Grobe said following the win. "It was a frustrating day in a lot ways. But I felt pretty good when we got it down deep enough to give Sam a shot. I really felt he would make it."

And so the Deacs' 2008 home opener, their 107th, was a success. Wake hasn't lost at home since the defeat to Nebraska early in 2007. All in all it was a grand day. The weather was perfect. Deacon Tower stood as a testament to the elevation of the Deacs' football program. And Wake Forest remained undefeated. Unshakable.

Not a bad way to celebrate the program's 400th win.


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