WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (AP) — After a forgettable past month for Wake Forest, there was a sudden change in the final seconds Saturday.
Third-string quarterback Santino Marucci threw a 15-yard touchdown pass to Cameron Hite with 7 seconds remaining to cap a dizzying turn of events in a 21-17 win over Pittsburgh.
“We created a moment tonight that those guys will never forget,” Deacon Deacons coach Dave Clawson said.
The teams combined for three touchdowns in the last 3:02, with Wake Forest (4-3, 1-3 Atlantic Coast Conference) snapping a three-game losing streak.
Marucci, a redshirt sophomore, made his debut as Wake Forest’s starting quarterback. It concluded with what he called his No. 1 football moment.
“I’m so grateful for this opportunity,” Marucci said, recalling time in the program as a scout-team running back. “Over the last three years, it was a roller coaster. There were ups, downs, loop d’loops.”
His parents hurried from Florida to attend the game when learning he would be the starter.
Marucci’s winning pass connected with Hite in the middle of the field as the tight end dove into the end zone. The Demon Deacons were out of timeouts.
“They knew that I was trying to get it to the outside,” Marucci said. “We got the look we wanted.”
Marucci hadn’t played since six snaps in 2021 against Norfolk State. Hite’s only catch of the game resulted in his third career touchdown.
“Man of the hour,” Hite said of Marucci. “Santino put the ball right where it needed to be.”
There was a different mood among the Panthers.
“There were some tears in that locker room,” Pittsburgh coach Pat Narduzzi said.
Christian Veilleux pulled the Panthers out of their offensive doldrums by throwing 22 yards to Bub Means for a touchdown with 1:30 remaining.
But Pittsburgh (2-5, 1-3) needed two more defensive stops with the Demon Deacons moving into Panthers’ territory – and only got one. M.J. Devonshire’s interception halted the first of those possessions.
Wake Forest got another chance after Veilleux appeared to pick up a clinching first down on a third-down run. But it was ruled he began his slide before the yard-to-reach mark.
“You got to go head first and make no doubt about it,” Narduzzi said.
A punt followed, and the Demon Deacons went 48 yards on six plays with just one timeout.
Marucci was 12-for-21 passing for 151 yards with two interceptions. Demond Claiborne gained 96 yards on 14 carries with two touchdowns.
Veilleux completed 28 of 45 passes for 302 yards. C’Bo Flemister rushed for 105 yards on 23 carries.
“We didn’t finish it,” Narduzzi said. “They found a way to get it done. We found a way to not get it done.”
Claiborne ran 42 yards for a touchdown with 3:02 left to cap Wake Forest’s 89-yard drive to complete a six-play possession.
The Demon Deacons had only 125 yards of total offense through three quarters, but finished with 323.
Wake Forest quarterbacks Mitch Griffis, who started the first six games, and Michael Kern were out with injuries. Marucci’s new role wasn’t revealed until shortly before game time. “We pretty much knew all week,” Clawson said.
This was a rematch of the 2021 ACC championship game. The Panthers were trying to follow up an upset of then-No. 14 Louisville a week earlier.
Ben Sauls kicked a 41-yard field goal with 13:03 left to give the Panthers a 10-7 edge. That 43-yard drive followed Phillip O’Brien Jr.’s interception.
On Wake Forest’s next possession, the Demon Deacons reached the Panthers’ 32, but they gave the ball back when coming up short on a fourth-and-2 run.
Veilleux threw a 7-yard touchdown pass to Kenny Johnson for the first points to cap the game’s opening possession.
Wake Forest pulled even with 1:32 left in the first half, going 55 yards in two plays – aided by a 15-yard penalty – and scoring on Claiborne’s 18-yard run.
Pittsburgh lost for the first time in three all-time meetings, all of those contested in North Carolina. … The outcome was crucial for both teams in terms of potential bowl eligibility. They each have remaining games against nationally ranked Florida State, Notre Dame and Duke.
Pittsburgh: The Panthers had scored at least 21 points in five of their previous six games, but the offense was largely a struggle in this one. The two touchdown drives totaled 150 yards.
Wake Forest: The Demon Deacons had to rely on defense with the team failing to reach the 17-point mark in their previous three games and then breaking in a new quarterback. It worked out with the sudden burst of late-game offense.
Pittsburgh: Saturday at No. 15 Notre Dame
Wake Forest: Saturday at home vs. No. 4 Florida State