TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – It was only the first quarter and, given the final score, maybe it didn’t matter all that much.
But there’s no denying this: Wake Forest built an early 10-point lead that had mostly silenced the homecoming crowd at Doak Campbell Stadium and, after driving to the Seminoles’ 30-yard line, had a chance for more.
Rather than attempt a 47-yard field goal, however, Wake coach Dave Clawson kept his offense on the field. FSU defensive end Brian Burns then burst off the edge of the line, brought down Wake quarterback Sam Hartman for a 10-yard loss, and in an instant, changed the complexion of the game.
“That’s just what our team needed – for somebody to make a play for us,” FSU coach Willie Taggart said. “I think it all started with Burns’ play. It seemed like it kind of woke us up.”
And in a hurry. Six plays and 60 yards later, Cam Akers crossed the goal line for the first of 38 straight points that had the Seminoles well on their way to a 38-17 victory.
From there, there were plenty of big plays – including a 58-yard touchdown run from Akers, a 33-yard touchdown catch by Nyqwan Murray and the first scoring grab of freshman Tre’Shaun Harrison’s career.
But none were bigger than Burns’ sack.
“When he made it, the sideline became electric,” linebacker Dontavious Jackson said.
“Brian changed the whole momentum of the game,” defensive tackle Marvin Wilson added. “He came up on that big fourth down, the offense got the ball, came down and scored and the rest of the game was history.”
With their offense in gear, the Seminoles (4-3, 2-3 ACC) took advantage of an overmatched Wake Forest defense for season highs in points, total yards (485) passing yards (353) and average yards per rush attempt (4.6).
Quarterback Deondre Francois threw for 353 yards and two touchdowns, Murray added 131 yards on eight catches and Akers had his first multi-score game of the season.
The sophomore running back carried 13 times for 98 yards, 58 of which came via a long touchdown run on FSU’s first drive of the third quarter.
It was Akers’ longest run since an 85-yarder in the season opener against Virginia Tech.
“I think I needed that touchdown run a lot,” Akers said. “It helped me in getting the weight off my shoulders, just to break a long one. I am used to scoring touchdowns.”
But while there was plenty to like about the offense’s production, the day, in many ways, belonged to Harlon Barnett’s defense.
Not only did Burns turn things around with his sack, but defensive back Stanford Samuels III picked up his counterparts with an interception just moments after receiver Keith Gavin fumbled into the end zone following a long gain.
Samuels returned his second interception of the season to the Wake 9-yard line, and a few moments later Jacques Patrick plunged in for a two-yard, go-ahead score that just a few moments before had seemed awfully far away.
“I went to (Gavin) and told him I got him,” Samuels said. “He said, ‘Appreciate it,’ but he didn’t have to say anything. That’s my brother. … For me to be able to make a play for team after something tragic like that happened, it was big.”
After surrendering 10 points and 134 yards on Wake’s first three drives – and watching the Demon Deacons run an eye-popping 41 plays in the first quarter – the Seminoles made a stunning about-face.
Because after scoring a field goal that gave them a 10-0 lead, Wake’s next 11 possessions went like this: eight punts, two turnovers on downs and an interception.
With those first three drives from removed from its total, Wake (3-4, 0-3) mustered just 235 yards and 3.2 yards per play.
The change, Taggart said, came from a simple adjustment.
“We stopped substituting so much,” he said. “They were going up-tempo, and when we (stopped substituting), it allowed our guys to get set up and be in position to be able to make plays.”
Never mind that as the Seminoles largely kept their same group of 11 players on the field, Wake’s hurry-up offense ran a staggering 104 plays, the most ever by an FSU opponent.
“That’s when you’ve got to dig deep,” Samuels said. “That’s when that dog comes out.”
Deacons quarterback Hartman completed 47 percent of his passes before giving way to reserve Jamie Newman in the second half. Star receiver Greg Dortch, perhaps still limited from an injury suffered two weeks ago, was held in check for 24 yards on four catches.
With Wake sputtering, the Seminoles racked up six sacks – including two each from Burns and Josh Kaindoh, as well as one from Janarius Robinson and Emmett Rice – and nine tackles for loss. Twenty-four Seminoles recorded at least one tackle, with Samuels’ eight leading the way.
All told, it was a comprehensive ACC victory and one the Seminoles felt was especially important given what’s on the horizon.
FSU hosts No. 3 Clemson next week at noon. While the Seminoles were dealing with Wake Forest, the Tigers were busy throttling No. 16 North Carolina State, 41-7.
After that, FSU will travel to NC State, and then to No. 4 Notre Dame.
“We needed this,” Wilson said. “Right now, we’re like fifth in the ACC (Atlantic Division). So we needed that to pump us up. We’re trying to go the rest of the season and win out, so that was a big first step.”