CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. — For the third time in five weeks, Wake Forest was in a football game that came down to the wire.
For the third time in five weeks, the result was the same: The Deacons victorious, no matter the elevated blood pressure levels of coaches and/or fans alike.
It shouldn’t be surprising.
Since the start of the 2016 season, Wake Forest is 12-3 in games decided by seven points or less — including wins in all three such games this season.
“I just think we’re very smart. I think we’re a very smart team, and I think we know our situations very well,” redshirt junior quarterback Jamie Newman said. “So on offense, when we get the ball with seven, eight minutes left and we know we need to make them use all their timeouts like we did, defense is going to do a great job.”
The constant in these three games — 38-35 over Utah State, 24-18 over North Carolina and now 27-24 over Boston College on Saturday — is the poise on Wake Forest’s sideline.
It’s a team that entered the season with Coach Dave Clawson touting the blend of experience and youth — heavier on the former, but enough of the latter to feel good about future contributors.
It wasn’t just lip service.
“We’ve got 23 guys in the two-deep that this is their fourth or fifth year in the program. They’ve been in these games, they know how to handle them. They know how to manage the clock,” Clawson said. “Even some of our tackles at the end there, that we were keeping guys in bounds and forcing the clock to run, I think that comes with experience.
“We’ve been in these situations how many times? I don’t think we panic when we get in them.”
There didn’t seem to be panic when, clutching a three-point lead and taking over with 6:39 left, the Deacons’ offense embarked on a drive that enveloped almost the rest of the time in the game.
On third-and-1, it was a designed run for Newman for 4 yards. On third-and-6, a 9-yard pass from Newman to Kendall Hinton, a dart to the right sideline. On third-and-4, a 7-yard pass from Newman to Jack Freudenthal, a laser over the middle, which was finally open because of success on the outside of Scotty Washington and Sage Surratt.
The Eagles (3-2, 1-1) spent all of their timeouts on that drive and still only got the ball back on their own 5-yard line with 28 seconds left. It’s situational training throughout spring practices and fall camp that pays off when it matters most.
“We’re just a very resilient bunch. We’re very confident in our training, that all the work that we put in over camp, in the offseason, it’s just all coming together,” Washington said.
“We really just prepare for these moments. We prepare for end-of-the-game situations, situational things that really have come to help us this year,” said senior linebacker Justin Strnad, who piled up another 13 tackles. “This is another game that we had a two-minute drive and we, obviously, had to get a stop.
“We always work those every single week, Coach Clawson does a really good job of preparing us for those, and our defensive coaches do a really good job of getting us ready for those situations.”
The streaks and trends from this one show plenty. It’s the seventh straight win for Wake Forest (5-0, 1-0 ACC), which matches a program record. The last time Wake Forest won seven straight games was during World War II — when the Deacons opened 7-0 in 1944.
It’s the fourth straight ACC road victory — in Clawson’s tenure, the Deacons have won eight total ACC road games.
The Deacons have a week off now, just like the only other unbeaten team in the ACC — No. 1 Clemson. Wake Forest is likely to crack the Associated Press Top 25 today, and could be the only other ACC team to be ranked — depending on how far Virginia tumbles after losing at Notre Dame.
Clemson’s win on the road Saturday came by a slimmer margin than Wake Forest’s — the Tigers were a two-point conversion away from hearing “Return of the Mack” in their nightmares.
But of the two unbeaten teams left in the ACC, it won’t be Clemson that takes a reputation hit for only winning by so many points. That’s probably fine with the Deacons, who have proven they’re conditioned to win close games — not just get in them and hope for the best.
“Super proud of our guys, you just — you never feel any let-up with our group. And I’m proud of them, we’re 1-0 for the week and heading to the bye week 5-0,” Clawson said. “We’re in a good spot now, but we’ve gotta continue to get better and improve, and there’s a lot of tough games ahead of us here.”