Jacksonville Sports Day

Gator Bowl: Wake Forest Uses Big Second Half to Defeat Rutgers, 38-10

Photo by Jim Brady/SportsDay

This wasn’t supposed to be as close as it once was in the revision. A 14-point line dictated a possible blowout other than the initial envision of a tighter ball game.

No. 17 Wake Forest, the 10-3 ACC Atlantic Division champion with their high-powered offense, was scheduled to play No. 23 Texas A&M with an 8-4 slate in the 77th version of Jacksonville legendary Gator Bowl, this time around named the TaxSlayer one at TIAA Field.

But the Aggies reportedly had 38 players left after a COVID-19 outbreak ravaged the team. Yet a report in Texas Monthly stated Texas A&M was looking for an out after NFL draft opt-outs, injuries, and transfers riddled the program.

Instepped 5-7 Rutgers, which likely would have received a bowl bid if not for their unexpected loss to Maryland in their season finale. They became eligible due to an academic clause. Good for them.

On a sun-splashed, mild day, the 28,508 announced crowd of tickets distributed enjoyed a rather enjoyable afternoon of college football before Wake Forest took control late in the third quarter on their way to a 38-10 victory.

Before the kickoff, officials made a good call with a Marine band marching onto the field and providing a stellar performance of the National Anthem

Wake Forest won 11 games in a season for the first time since their 2006 ACC Championship in which they posted an 11-3 mark.

Ironically, Wake Forest has roots in Jacksonville, playing in the inaugural and last Gator Bowl and on Jan, 1, 1946 defeating South Carolina, 26-14. They won their last championship here with a 9-6 win over Georgia Tech on Dec. 2, 2006 to capture their second ever ACC title.

Rutgers managed to slow Wake Forest’s 500-point, 41.9-point per game offense down a bit to 454 yards, but the Scarlet Knights couldn’t contain them.

Wake Forest never looked back after they closed out the first half without any time left on the clock on Nick Sciba’s second of two second-quarter field goals that gave the Deacons a 20-10 advantage.

Wake Forest sophomore quarterback Sam Hartman had an impressive day, throwing for 304 yards with three touchdowns on a 23-for-39 showing. His prime target was 6-f-oot-5 receiver A.T. Perry, who was nearly unstoppable with 10 catches for 127 yards, and he accented his day with a leap over a Rutgers cornerback on one of his receptions.

Hartman raised his touchdown total to 39 and passed the 4,000-yard mark in passing yards. Perry hit the 70-catch mark with close to 1,300 yards receiving for the year.

Rutgers played five quarterbacks in the game with all five taking at least a snap in the second quarter with senior Noah Vedral playing the majority of snaps, going 8 for 13 for 87 yards. Rutgers did battle throughout the second half, but they couldn’t convert in timely manners, as they finished with 275 total yards.

The Scarlet Knights had a chance to tie the score and change momentum late in the first half, but Wake’s Gavin Holmes ended the drive with an interception that led to the Deacons taking control with a 20-10 halftime advantage.

In the end, Wake Forest again enjoyed the comforts of Jacksonville, and Rutgers made it fun for a while.

Wake Forest QB Sam Hartman and Rutgers QB Johnny Langan were named MVPs.

Hartman, the winning MVP, led the Demon Deacons by throwing for 304 yards and three touchdowns. The redshirt sophomore signal caller also had a 35-yard run to set up a touchdown in the third quarter.

Langan caught six passes for 57 yards, including a 27-yarder. Langan also threw two passes for 21 yards and rushed six times for 20 yards.

The TaxSlayer Gator Bowl has recognized a winning team MVP since the contest began in 1946. In 1953, it also began acknowledging an MVP from the opposing team to honor outstanding individual performances. Previous noteworthy TaxSlayer Gator Bowl MVPs include Louisville QB Lamar Jackson (2017), Michigan QB Denard Robinson (2011), Georgia Tech WR Calvin Johnson (2007), and Syracuse QB Donovan McNabb (1996).

Wake Forest won the inaugural Gator Bowl against South Carolina on January 1, 1946. RB Nick Sacrinty was the MVP after finishing the game with 188 rushing yards and one touchdown.

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