SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Wake Forest’s fifth turnover was the one that ultimately decided Syracuse’s 39-30 overtime win on Saturday at The Dome.
But the Deacons’ frustration afterward had little to do with Kendall Hinton getting stripped at the 4-yard line and Trill Williams returning it 96 yards for the salt-in-the-wound score.
Wake Forest’s four first-half turnovers, four injuries suffered by key players and worst defensive third-down performance of the season had a lot more to do with this one than anything that happened in the 226th minute of football.
“We definitely didn’t come out and play perfect, we definitely didn’t play our best game, but everybody came out and played hard. It hurts, it hurts a lot,” said redshirt junior linebacker Ja’Cquez Williams. “I think it’s important to know that this isn’t K2, this isn’t Kendall. There’s no finger to be pointed, we all took this as a team.
“It’s everyone’s fault, you know? It definitely stings.”
The only smooth part of the game for Wake Forest (8-4) was probably the first five minutes. It saw the Deacons rattle Syracuse backup quarterback Clayton Welch — an emergency starter of sorts after Tommy DeVito was stepped on by a lineman during practice — and then drive 58 yards before settling for Nick Sciba’s 43-yard field goal.
The Orange (5-7) scored 17 unanswered points after that and it could’ve been worse. Jamie Newman was intercepted once, lost a fumble six plays later after Welch gifted the ball back to the Deacons, and then suffered a right leg injury that kept him from returning. On the same play, right guard Nate Gilliam suffered an injury that prevented his return.
Sam Hartman entered and was intercepted on two of his first eight passes.
“We know that we can’t live with turnovers and you look at the game and watch those plays — you know, you’re always going to see that one last play as the play that loses the game but it’s on all of us,” Hartman said. “It starts with the quarterbacks just taking care of the ball, and if we do a better job of that it’s going to be a different game.”
There was zero indication, Coach Dave Clawson said, that the offense would sputter as badly as it did.
“We had a great week of practice. Guys were locked in,” Clawson said. “The possibility of the Orange Bowl and a 10-win season and all of those things were really big motivators for our kids. It was no emotional letdown after Duke of the Big 4, we just, we didn’t play well. We were off and we had some tough injuries today.”
Hartman turned it into a different game in the second half, the Deacons fighting back furiously with Cade Carney’s 19-yard touchdown run and Donavon Greene’s 75-yard catch-and-run score, those accounting for Wake Forest’s first two “possessions” of the second half.
But the second half also featured a few too many cracks in a Deacons’ defense that held them in the game in the first half, allowing third-down conversions 6 of 10 times and three plays of more than 25 yards in the fourth quarter.
“We had to get lined up. They kind of went fast on us,” Williams said. “But it was just schematic things, something that we’ve got to work on on our end. It was nothing that they did that we hadn’t seen.
“But at the end of the day, we didn’t make enough plays, we didn’t do what we needed to do.”
Of course, that’s where more of the injuries factor in. Kenneth Dicks III is the backup rover, a position already missing Luke Masterson, and he left the game after the opening kickoff.
More costly for the defense was the injury suffered by sophomore safety Nasir Greer, who went down early in the first quarter and returned briefly, but then was ruled out for the game.
“Certainly losing Nasir, you just, he’s our Mr. Fixit. When things get in space, he’s the guy that gets things down,” Clawson said. “And without having Justin (Strnad) and Luke in there, he’s kind of been our eraser. And just, how many plays that we were in a position to make and we didn’t get it down?
“We’ve gotta get him healthy, hopefully for the bowl game.”
He’s not the only one.