WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. - It wasn't as crazy as "The Longest Yard," the 1974 movie, and at 3 hours and 20 minutes, it wasn't all that time-consuming by the standards of modern college football. But after facing 77 rushing attempts from more angles than Euclid could have conjured, the Wake Forest Demon Deacons exited BB&T Field exhausted, satisfied and victorious over Army 49-37 Saturday afternoon.
"That's one of the longest days I've ever been through in coaching," Wake's Jim Grobe said.
Such is the deal when you face the Black Knights, whose wishbone, option offense is impossible to duplicate in practice and nearly as tough to stop in live action. Army's total of running plays is the highest against the Deacons since 1975 and the third-highest any Wake team has ever seen.
"Even if you can get the angles right, nobody does it like those guys," Wake safety Daniel Mack said. "The first quarter and a half is constant assessment and adjustment."
The Demon Deacons racked up 517 yards of total offense - their highest total since 2009 - and all of them were welcomed because Army accrued 506 of its own. Saturday marked the first time since 1998 that Wake Forest amassed and permitted 500 or more.
Ultimately, Wake improved to 3-1 because it broke several big runs and used wide receiver Michael Campanaro as a de facto rusher. Campanaro caught 12 of Tanner Price's 15 completions for 153 yards and scored three touchdowns - two on passes and a third on an end-around run.
In short, it was never easy.
In the fourth quarter, the Black Knights trailed 42-37 and were on one of their typical drives. Twelve plays had taken up five minutes of the clock and had advanced the ball to the Wake 31. It wasn't a stretch to believe that, with six minutes to go, Army might have scored the go-ahead points and left the Deacons with relatively little time to respond. The Knights faced fourth down and went for it.
One thing played into Wake Forest's favor. Starting quarterback Trent Steelman had left for good after absorbing several clean shots to the ribs. That's an occupational hazard of any option QB, but it left the offense in the relatively inexperienced hands of backup Angel Santiago.
"Huge. Absolutely huge," Grobe admitted. "I hate it. I never want to see a kid get hurt. Ever. The kid who came in might be just as capable, but he hadn't played the whole game."
The Deacons' second edge was linebacker Mike Olson, who derived special inspiration on this day. Only 24 hours earlier, his father, Col. Thomas Olson, retired after more than 30 years of service to his country in the Army in a career that included service in the first Gulf War and in Afghanistan. His comrades conducted a ceremony in the elder Olson's honor at the Pentagon. Mike Olson was unable to attend, of course, but he received permission from the colonel to defeat the Black Knights.
"Go Wake," the text message read early Saturday. "Beat Army."
Olson snuck around the left side of the Wake defensive line and, when his teammates took away Santiago's cut-back, the linebacker was there to record the critical one-yard loss with six minutes to play.
"Our front did a really good job of taking up the other blocks and I was free," Olson said.
The Deacons responded and faced a third and sixth a few minutes later. Deandre Martin's goal was a first down. Presented with a chance for something more, he took full advantage for a 37-yard, game-sealing touchdown.
It was Wake's third TD of 41 or more yards on the day. Josh Harris' 63-yard run was arguably the day's single biggest highlight.
"We had some games where all we needed was that one block," Harris said. "And today was that day. Our offensive line play was amazing."
Scoring Drive Recaps
Army 6, Wake Forest 0 (3:20, 1st Quarter)
Army wasted no time in scoring in the first quarter. After gaining 17 yards on three-straight running plays, quarterback Trent Steelman completed a 45-yard pass to Chevaughn Lawrence, putting the Black Knights in the red zone. Four plays later, Steelman rushed for a two-yard touchdown. On the ensuing extra point attempt, Justin Jackson blocked the attempt which kept the score at 6-0.
Wake Forest 7, Army 6 (4:00, 1st Quarter)
Wake Forest countered with a scoring drive of its own on the next drive. Quarterback Tanner Price hit Michael Campanaro for a six-yard screen pass on the first play which was followed two plays later by a 47-yard pass to Brandon Terry down the middle of the field. After the Deacs pushed their way closer to the end zone, Josh Harris rushed six yards to the Army four-yard line. Campanaro then scored off a four-yard rush to even the game. A Jimmy Newman extra point put Wake Forest up 7-6.
Army 13, Wake Forest 7 (3:11, 1st Quarter)
The Black Knights fully utilized their triple option offense on their second drive. On the third play of the drive, Larry Dixon rushed for 29 yards to the Wake Forest 39-yard line. Steelman followed that up with a 16-yard run of his own. Raymond Maples rushed for 12 yards before Dixon rushed for a 12-yard touchdown. Daniel Grochowski kicked an extra point as Army went up 13-7, completing the seven-play, 75-yard drive.
Wake Forest 14, Army 13 (3:32, 1st Quarter)
The Demon Deacons answered again to Army, scoring on a 41-yard pass to Campanaro for his second touchdown of the game. Setting up the seven-play drive, Harris and Deandre Martin combined for 12-yards on the first two plays. Price went to Campanaro for two-straight passes, which were followed by an offside penalty on the Black Knights, putting the Deacs on the visitor's 47-yard line. Two plays later, Price hit Campanaro for the score. Newman added the extra tally as Wake Forest took the 14-13 lead.
Army 20, Wake Forest 14 (4:05, 2nd Quarter)
Army added its third touchdown with a 4:05 drive which began at the end of the first quarter and extended into the second. Once again Steelman was the catalyst of the running game, bringing the Black Knights to the 50-yard line. Dixon rushed for six yards on back-to-back plays while Malcolm Brown ran for a 10-yard gain. Maples took a 33-yard rush down to the Wake Forest one-yard line which was followed by a Steelman rush for his second touchdown of the game. Grochowski completed his extra point as Army went up 20-14.
Wake Forest 21, Army 20 (3:19, 2nd Quarter)
Campanaro became the first Deac to have three touchdowns in a game since Chris Barclay in 2005 after a seven-yard fade pass from Price, knotting the game up at 20. Wake Forest went nine-plays and 79 yards on the drive. Campanaro snagged a 13-yard pass from Price to start the drive and then ran for 14-yards to the Wake Forest 48-yard line. Price targeted Sherman Ragland III on the next drive for a long gain which was initially ruled an interception but was overturned on replay. Gaining the ball back, Martin ran for a combined 27 yards to the Army 25-yard line and after a facemask penalty, the Deacs got down to the Army 12-yard line. Three plays later, Price completed the touchdown pass to Campanaro as Newman tacked on the extra point for the 21-20 lead for the Deacs.
Army 23, Wake Forest 21 (4:24, 2nd Quarter)
Army rushed for 14 plays in the last drive of the second quarter, spanning a total of 59 yards. The drive was highlighted by a 10-yard rush from Steelman and a 11-yard run from Maples. With three seconds left on the clock, Army called a timeout as Grochowski converted a field goal as time expired giving the Black Knights a 23-21 lead at halftime.
Wake Forest 28, Army 23 (2:55, 3rd Quarter)
The Deacs wasted no time to score after halftime. Harris powered the Wake Forest offense on the drive with four total carries. He rushed for a five and a six-yard gain on the first two plays prior to a 13-yard pass to tight end Spencer Bishop. Three plays later, Price completed a 19-yard pass to Campanaro which was followed by an acrobatic 19-yard touchdown run for Harris who dodged several tackles to stay on his feet. Newman's kick was good as Wake Forest took a 28-23 lead.
Wake Forest 35, Army 23 (1:09, 3rd Quarter)
After recovering a fumble from Maples on Army's 25-yard line, Wake Forest tacked onto its lead with a three-play touchdown drive. Martin lined up as quarterback in the Wildcat formation and rushed for 10-yard touchdown. Newman added an extra point as the Demon Deacons extended their lead to 35-23 with 10:14 left in the third quarter.
Wake Forest 35, Army 30 (3:43, 3rd Quarter)
Beginning on their own 25-yard line, the Black Knights marched down the field on nine plays, scoring a touchdown. Steelman led off with a 14-yard gain on a quarterback keep while Brown, Maples and Dixon all rushed for long chunks down to the Wake Forest two-yard line. During the drive, Maples had a 25-yard run while Brown added a 19-yard rush. Steelman finished off the drive with his third touchdown run of the game. Grochowski kicked the extra point as Army narrowed Wake Forest's lead to 35-30.
Wake Forest 42, Army 30 (1:12, 3rd Quarter)
Harris continued to have a great day as he busted out a 63-yard rush down the field for his second touchdown of the game. He started the drive with a four-yard run followed by a eight-yard pass to Terence Davis. The next play Harris broke through a hole and ran the length of the field, putting the Demon Deacons up 42-30 following an extra point from Newman.
Wake Forest 42, Army 37 (3:12, 3rd Quarter)
Maples began the next drive with a 19-yard rush after beginning on the Army 25-yard line. The Black Knights pushed down the field and after being aided on a Wake Forest facemask penalty, Army set up on the Deacs 30-yard line. Steelman then completed his third pass of the game to Brown to the 11-yard line. On third down, Steelman hit Maples for a 13-yard touchdown pass. The kick attempt from Grochowski was good as Army pulled within five, making the score to 42-37.
Wake Forest 49, Army 37 (3:00, 4th Quarter)
Regaining possession of the ball with 5:50 remaining in the game, Wake Forest clinched the win with a 37-yard touchdown run from Martin. Price rushed for 19 yards during the drive to help set up Martin's second touchdown of the day. Newman added the extra point as the Deacs made the score 49-37 which stood as the final tally.