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Wake Forest freshman walk-on safety Nick Andersen is hoisted in the air by his teammates after the Demon Deacons defeated 19th-ranked Virginia Tech on Saturday night. (Photo: Andrew Dye,Journal, Winston-Salem Journal)
WINSTON-SALEM — A blood-stained black jersey with gold numbers and trim emerged from the huddle of Wake Forest football players gathered at the 50-yard line of Truist Field on Saturday night.
A cut suffered in the preceding Atlantic Coast Conference game blemished Nick Andersen’s chin, thus dripping down his jersey, serving as a battle scar from his efforts.
As he celebrated in all his gameday glory, the true freshman walk-on was hoisted on the shoulders of his teammates for his performance in Wake Forest’s 23-16 victory against No. 19 Virginia Tech.
“They were calling him ‘Rudy’ and they were chanting, ‘scholly, scholly,’ ” Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson said, acknowledging his players’ calls to reward the walk-on with a scholarship. “So I think we’ll definitely be taking care of that next semester.”
Andersen’s three interceptions and 11 tackles were at the center of a stout defensive showing by the Demon Deacons (3-2 overall, 2-2 ACC) that held a prolific Virginia Tech offense to a season-low point total and elicited the praise of his teammates.
“He is an absolute dog,” Wake Forest defensive tackle Sulaiman Kamara said. “For him to be a walk-on on a Division I level and do what he did these last couple games and (against Virginia Tech), that just shows you that if you put the time and dedication into anything, you can make anything happen. I’m absolutely so proud of him. When we brought him up in the middle of the field, everybody’s yelling, ‘Put him on scholarship,’ because he’s earned it. He has absolutely earned it.”
Andersen caught the game-sealing interception near midfield in the closing seconds as the Hokies (3-2, 3-2) attempted to construct a game-tying drive.
“We came out there, our mindset was to stop the run and make them beat us throwing the ball,” Andersen said. “And we showed that our secondary, you try and test us and we’ll be ready for it.”
The 5-foot-11, 185-pound safety from Clifton, Va. said it was the first game he’s ever recorded three interceptions in, on any level of football. It’s the first time a Wake Forest player has recorded three interceptions in a single game since 1987 when A.J. Greene tallied four against Georgia Tech.
“That kid is the definition of a Wake Forest football player,” Wake Forest quarterback Sam Hartman said. “Gritty. Tough. It’s an honor to play beside him. It’s an honor to have him on my team. That kind of personifies why we’re going crazy out there. It’s guys like that make plays like that and just really excited.”
Andersen’s second takeaway came when Virginia Tech put together a promising drive that worked its way into Wake Forest territory with the Hokies trailing by 10 in the third quarter.
“It’s really all in the week’s preparation,” he said. “It starts with our coaches and it ends up with the players. We’re in there every day, we’re watching film, countless hours of film. On the practice field, we’re intense and we’re treating every day like it is a Saturday game day. And that’s why when we’re called upon to be in position to make a play, we’re making plays.”
He hauled in his first interception late in the first half with Virginia Tech driving down the field and looking to even the score before halftime. Anderson made a diving grab in the end zone to haul in a deflection off the hands of the Virginia Tech intended receiver and preserve a 7-point lead.
Here are four takeaways from Wake Forest’s victory:
Demon Deacons defense contains the Hokies run game
Virginia Tech entered the game as the top rushing team (312 yards per game) and second-highest scoring team (42.0 points) in the ACC.
Wake Forest held the Hokies to 210 rushing yards and 16 points, both marks registering as season-lows for Virginia Tech.
“They come in here to Wake Forest, in our stadium, thinking they’re going to run for 300 yards?” Wake Forest defensive end Carlos “Boogie” Basham said. “Naw. We took that as disrespect. So, we went out there every day working hard to do what we got to do for the game plan. They came in thinking they was going to run it; we shut that down.”
Virginia Tech running back Khalil Herbert led the country in rushing yards per game (148) entering the contest. Wake Forest contained him to just 64 yards on 14 carries.
“Clearly, we had to do that and limit him and we did a great job,” Clawson said.
Wake Forest’s defense continues its upward trajectory
This defensive performance comes after the Demon Deacons put together a strong second half last week against Virginia.
“Really proud of our whole football team,” Clawson said. “Especially our guys on defense, who the first couple of weeks struggled out of the gate. They’ve really worked hard and prepared hard and played good defense against an exceptional offense. We do a good job of creating turnovers. We continued to do that (against Virginia Tech), which really helps us and gives us extra possessions.”
In the first two games of the season against Clemson and North Carolina State, Wake Forest struggled to stop much of anything. The Wolfpack gained 270 yards on the ground against Wake Forest, something that stuck with the Demon Deacons.
“We gave up 270 rushing yards NC State and that was embarrassing,” Clawson said. “We were not happy about it. We’ve worked really hard to try to correct it. You never can say things are permanently corrected, but I feel a lot better about our run defense (now) than I did in Raleigh about a month ago. So we’ve made improvement, we’ve gotten better, we still got to get better.”
Demon Deacons run game does its thing
Both of Wake Forest’s touchdowns came via the ground.
Hartman scored on a 9-yard scamper to open the scoring in the first quarter while Kenneth Walker III scored on a 6-yard run in the second quarter.
Running back Christian Beal-Smith finished with 129 yards on 13 carries for an average of 9.9 yards a rush. Walker tallied 66 yards on 23 carries.
A 58-yard run by Beal-Smith set the Demon Deacons up in Virginia Tech territory for Hartman’s eventual touchdown.
Special teams remain a positive
Wake Forest kicker Nick Sciba made all three of his field-goal attempts, including a long of 46 yards in the third quarter.
Punter Ivan Mora and the Wake Forest coverage team came up clutch in the final minute of the game, downing a 30-yard punt at the 2-yard line. That meant the Hokies needed to drive 98 yards in the final 45 seconds to tie the game.
Herbert, who ranks third among Power Five players with a 32.8 kickoff return average, was held to just one return for 23 yards, mainly because of Wake Forest kickoff man Jack Crane’s ability to boot the majority of kickoffs through the end zone.
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