WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (AP) — Sam Hartman accounted for four touchdowns while Justice Ellison ran for a short score with 1:47 left to help No. 13 Wake Forest beat No. 21 North Carolina State 45-42 on Saturday night, claiming a critical Atlantic Coast Conference division win.
The win allowed the Demon Deacons (9-1, 6-0 ACC) to take a huge step toward claiming the Atlantic Division championship won by Clemson each year on the way to winning the past six league titles. Wake Forest now must win one of its last two games, both on the road, to secure the division winner’s ticket to the ACC championship game.
Fittingly, in a matchup of the division’s top two teams, the Demon Deacons had to grind to the final minute to hold off the Wolfpack (7-3, 4-2) and quarterback Devin Leary.
“That might be as hard as I’ve ever had a football team play for 60 minutes,” Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson said. “The competitiveness, it was just an outstanding effort. … It took a complete, complete team effort to win that game.”
Ellison’s 4-yard score pushed Wake Forest to a 45-35 lead, though N.C. State responded with a clutch drive that ended with Leary’s 8-yard touchdown pass to Devin Carter with 45 seconds left. The Wolfpack then nearly recovered the onside kick, with Ricky Person Jr. grabbing the bouncing ball about a yard shy of the 10-yard requirement to secure the possession.
That illegal-touching penalty gave the ball to Wake Forest and held up on review, ultimately allowing Hartman to take a knee and melt the final seconds and prevent the Wolfpack from wrestling complete control away of the division race.
“Obviously winning the Atlantic is out of out control now,” N.C. State coach Dave Doeren said, adding: “All we can control is our next two and try to win both of those. … There’s a lot to play for. But right now we’ve got some disappointed and upset coaches and players.”
Hartman, one of the national leaders in passing yardage and touchdowns, overcame a difficult passing night against a defensive unit ranked among the best in the Bowl Subdivision. He completed just 20 of 47 passes for 290 yards with three touchdowns and three interceptions to go with a second-quarter rushing TD.
But Hartman came through in the clutch after the Wolfpack had scored to pull within 38-35. He completed a 12-yard pass to Donald Stewart on third down to move the chains once, then found Taylor Morin on a 14-yarder to do it again.
Ellison capped the drive by pushing through the line on the left side the 4-yard touchdown to make it a two-possession game, ending a 13-play, 75-yard drive that took nearly 6 1/2 minutes off the clock.
Ellison scored three touchdowns on the night, coming through with a 4-yard catch from Hartman with 10:05 left as well as a 1-yard TD in the second quarter.
Leary threw for 408 yards and four touchdowns to lead the Wolfpack, with Emeka Emezie (133 yards) and Devin Carter (132) each hauling in a pair of TD grabs. Zonovan Knight also returned the second-half kickoff for a 100-yard touchdown for a 27-24 lead, the first time the Demon Deacons had trailed in a home game after halftime this season.
N.C. State: Add this to a growing list of frustrations for the Wolfpack when it comes to heading west on Interstate 40 for this game in Winston-Salem. N.C. State fell for the ninth time in 10 games here since 2001. This one will hurt worse than the others, considering the stakes involved.
Wake Forest: The Demon Deacons suffered their first loss after an 8-0 start in a nonconference matchup against instate league foe North Carolina last week. But they regrouped by grinding this one out on a night when they committed too many turnovers and dropped plenty of passes. And now, they’re a win away from playing for the program’s first league title since 2006.
N.C. State: Syracuse visits the Wolfpack next Saturday.
Wake Forest: The Demon Deacons visit Clemson next Saturday, seeking their first win against the Tigers since 2008 and their first win in Death Valley since 1998.