Sure, it's another one-week season for Wake Forest's football. They all are. It's also, pretty obviously, somewhat of a playoff week for the Deacons.
“I think there’s certainly a lot of players on our team that, they don’t want this to end. Whether it’s (seniors) Phil Haynes or Ryan Anderson or Chuck Wade or Cameron Glenn, that, our goal is to get to a bowl,” Coach Dave Clawson said. “It’s Week 12 and that goal is still alive and well. But it either becomes reality or it dies a death in Durham on Saturday.”
Wake Forest is 5-6 and heads to Duke on Saturday for the regular-season finale. The Deacons’ string of consecutive seasons with bowl berths is at two, and a win over the Blue Devils would likely guarantee a third.
“There’s not one person in the locker room who wants to say goodbye to our seniors like this,” said junior running back and captain Cade Carney. “There’s every ounce of everything we’ve got, we’re putting into it and I feel like the coaching staff all the way to the scout guys that are freshmen are working their butts off trying to salvage another month of season together.”
The Deacons have ridden a roller coaster in the second half of their season, following each loss with a win. An uninspired loss at Florida State was followed up by an electric win at Louisville, and then a crippling loss to Syracuse was followed by the most-improbable Rally in Raleigh.
Now the Deacons are asked to answer the bell once more, following Saturday’s 34-13 loss to Pittsburgh, or face the end of their season a month earlier than they’d like.
“It’s definitely a one-week season now. Coach Clawson talked about it being like a playoff atmosphere, where if we don’t win, we’re going home,” Haynes said. “That’s never been truer than this week. We’ve gotta win this week, it’s big.”
Wake Forest’s 24-hour rule applies after nearly every game — the exception being Saturdays before Thursday night games or after Thursday night wins, it seems.
After Saturday’s loss to Pittsburgh, senior defensive tackle Zeek Rodney was ready to move on quickly.
“I’m ready to play Duke now. It’s over with,” Rodney said Saturday, about 30 minutes after the end of the loss.
Since then, Carney has seen the same resiliency that’s been depended on after previous losses in the second half of this season.
“The team is resilient, we’ve been through a lot this year and so, one thing is that we bounce back very well. We’ve responded well to tough losses,” Carney said. “This season, we’ve had the down point and then we have, thankfully, come up. Even for a short time.
“We came in Sunday and we worked, and we had a great practice (Tuesday).”
There exists a scenario, however unlikely, that Wake Forest would reach a bowl game at 5-7. There are 39 bowl games, so 78 teams are needed. Heading into this week, 71 teams had already secured eligibility. Three games this weekend feature two five-win teams playing (Tennessee-Vanderbilt, Purdue-Indiana and Baylor-Texas Tech), which leaves 15 other teams vying for wins and the remaining four spots in bowl games. In addition to that, there are two four-win teams with two games left (Virginia Tech and Akron) that could secure bowl-eligibility by winning their final two games.
All that to say this: The Deacons are focused solely on this week — something that’s said every week, but takes on extra meaning coming into the regular-season finale against Duke.
“If there’s a must-win, it’s now. We try to stay away from saying that, but this is a must-win,” Carney said. “It’s unavoidable. The reality of it is, we have to win to keep our seniors around for another month.
“We either have three days left or we have 30, and we’re hoping to come out here next Tuesday and have a good, hard Tuesday practice. … There’s not one person that wants to start winter workouts next Monday.”