It was not exactly an offensive explosion despite having two high-caliber quarterbacks. But there was just enough offense for the Demon Deacons as Wake Forest beats Missouri 27-17 in the 2022 Gasparilla Bowl in Tampa, FL.
Wake took over possession with 5:55 left in the game and holding on to a three-point lead. With a couple of completions, a roughing the passer penalty on Missouri, and some clock-chewing runs, Wake Forest was able to salt the game away.
Quarterback Sam Hartman finished his Wake career by going 23 of 36 for 280 yards with three touchdowns and an interception. His first touchdown pass was the 108th of his career, breaking Tajh Boyd’s ACC record. Receiver A.T. Perry set a Gasparilla Bowl record with 11 receptions. He totaled 116 yards with the catches.
But it was the Wake Forest defense that kept the Demon Deacons in the game for much of the night.
Wake took an uncharacteristic early lead. Hartman connected with Tayler Morin with a five-yard touchdown pass for the 7-0 lead, and the ACC record. The drive went 85 yards and was rather symbolic of the night for both teams. Nothing happened quickly. There were very few over-the-top plays. The winning team was going to have to grind it out.
Missouri answered with a drive that culminated with a Mevis Harrison 35-yard field goal. And in a style that befit the Tigers all night, it burned 7:57 off the clock. In fact, Missouri’s first two scoring drives used 15 minutes of the game clock. But this drive also exhibited the challenges Missouri had with running the ball early on. Quarterback Brandon Cook was seven of eight passing for 69 yards, but the Tigers had four rushes for minus six yards, and it was not because of quarterback sacks.
In the second quarter, Hartman put together another scoring drive with 46 yards of passing. But it was running back Justice Ellison who put the points on the board with a one-yard touchdown run for the 14-3 lead.
Missouri put a touchdown on the board before the half. It was on the ground, but not with a designed run game. It was a 36-yard scramble by Cook to the Wake Forest two-yard line that put them in scoring position. Nathaniel Peat ran it from there and Wake was clinging to a 14-10 lead at the half.
Missouri took the lead in the third quarter on a drive that went 83 yards and took another 6:22 off the clock. Wake’s Isaiah Wingfield was called for defensive pass interference in the end zone, giving the Tigers the ball at the one-yard line. After a running play that went backward, Cody Schraeder sprinted to the left side for a four-yard touchdown run.
Hartman pulled off one of the few big yardage plays of the night. He hit Jahmal Banks along the right side at the Mizzou 25-yard line. Banks could not have been more open because of a breakdown in the Missouri secondary. He broke a tackle at the five and cruised into the end zone for the 20-17 edge, a lead that Wake would not relinquish the rest of the night.
In the fourth quarter, it was time for Wake to burn some clock. They took over with 5:55 left in the game. Ellison picked up 14 yards on four carries. Hartman had another 15 yards on the ground. And then it was Hartman to Morin for the 16-yard touchdown and the final blow to Missouri’s chances.
The defense had one more stand, stopping Missouri on six plays. It was then up to Hartman, in his last game at Wake Forest, to kneel in the victory formation.
After the game, Missouri’s Eliah Drinkwitz put much of the responsibility for the loss on his shoulder. “Our guys fought and fought but I just didn’t do enough to give us a chance to win tonight.”
Drinkwitz had some comments earlier in the week about flipping a Wake recruiting commit just before signing day. Many saw the comments as glib. Clawson said, “I don’t know if he was trying to be funny or cute. I just don’t think comments like that are necessary.” Clawson did add that he still does like Drinkwitz.
But the night was about the bowl win, the fifth in seven postseason games in the Clawson era. And on a night when Hartman was named the game MVP, and Perry set a bowl record. Clawson talked about the identity of the team. He was quick to point out that none of the key players opted out of the bowl game. “I think the end identity of this team is that this team finished,” he said. “You look at all those close games. It wasn’t for a lack of effort. And at no point did we lose one of those games and then not show up the next week. Again, the execution wasn’t always great. But the effort, preparation; this team kept its foot on the gas pedal.” He called it one of the best defensive efforts of the season.
Hartman talked about what it was like taking the victory formation in his final snaps at Wake Forest. “It was very cool… Seeing the guys celebrate… I get a lot of the press and I got a lot of the pictures but I could not do it without each and every one. Every single day they make it worth taking the hits and doing everything else.”
He has been clear that he will not come back for one more year of eligibility at Wake Forest. It was assumed he would make himself available for the NFL draft. But in recent days, the rumors have ramped up that he would enter the transfer portal for the purposes of taking a NIL deal at another school for his final year. He was asked to address what his thought process will be. He got out of his seat as quickly as possible and made a mad dash for the exit while saying his process would be, “To find the place with the coldest drink tonight.”
Clawson said one of the things he will remember most about the season is the raised expectations. “We just finished 8-5, which I believe is one of the top 10 records in the history of Wake Forest football. And I think there is going to be a little bit of a narrative that it was a disappointing season. And I take pride that 8-5 is now disappointing at Wake Forest.”
We will have a detailed wrap-up on the 2022 Wake Forest season early next week.