WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (AP) — Liberty scored with about a minute left but No. 19 Wake Forest stopped CJ Yarbrough’s two-point conversion attempt several yards short of the goal line for a tight 37-36 home win Saturday.
The Demon Deacons’ ground game was ineffective — 21 yards on 26 attempts — so they turned to defense and a passing game, with quarterback Sam Hartman throwing for 325 yards and three touchdowns. Wake Forest remains unbeaten at 3-0.
Liberty (2-1) had pulled within a single point on that late 18-yard, fourth-down touchdown grab by Demario Douglas, who jumped high and took the ball away from two Wake defenders in the end zone.
The second half turned out to be a shootout, pitting Hartman against elusive Liberty quarterback Kaidon Salter, a former Tennessee recruit. But Matthew Dennis made the extra point after a 1-yard touchdown run from Justice Ellison with 3:39 left.
The Deacons made three first-half interceptions en route to a 20-8 halftime lead, despite gaining only one yard on offense and yielding a safety on a blocked punt.
The Flames took their first lead on a 43-yard run Dae Dae Hunter, who escaped the grasp of one defender and raced down the middle of the field. A two-point pass put Liberty in front 23-20 less than five minutes into the second half.
Salter ran for 77 yards and one TD and passed for 192 with two TDs, often scrambling to wait for open receivers.
Liberty: Liberty was riding momentum with a 23-20 lead in the final minute of the third quarter and had Wake pinned deep after sacking Hartman. But an unnecessary roughness call – the replay didn’t show much extra contact on the sack — gave Wake new life. The Deacons converted a fourth-down pass near midfield. Later in the drive, a Liberty interception was negated by a defensive holding call. The drive ended in Matthew Dennis’ 46-yard, tying field goal.
Wake Forest: The Deacons struggled on offense, especially in the running game, a source for worry with No. 5 Clemson next on the schedule. Wake, which averaged 181 yards rushing in victories over VMI and Vanderbilt, netted a single yard on its 10 first-half carries. Liberty shut down Wake’s read-option running attack. The Deacons had only one run of more than six yards, a 13-yard Hartman scramble.
Liberty coach Hugh Freeze, known since his days at Ole Miss for taking chances on fourth down, took one early against Wake and paid a price. A fourth-and-2 gamble was stopped near midfield, setting up Wake’s first field goal. When the Flames took their first lead early in the third quarter, Freeze called for a two-point conversion try that resulted in a successful pass and a 23-20 Liberty lead. The final gamble, choosing to opt for a two-point play rather than likely overtime, came up empty.
Liberty: Hosts Akron next Saturday.
Wake Forest: Hosts No. 5 Clemson in its ACC opener.