In his first season as Wake Forest’s coach, Dave Clawson knew he was going to have to ask a great deal from his defense.
In his first game, he had to ask too much.
“That’s too much to ask,” Clawson said after the Deacons’ 17-10 loss Thursday night to Louisiana-Monroe. “That’s too much to ask.
“They didn’t play perfect, but certainly well enough to keep us in the game. It’s just that offensively, we struggled.”
The Warhawks’ Pete Thomas scored on a 9-yard quarterback draw with 3 minutes, 37 seconds remaining, culminating a 66-yard drive that produced the game’s only offensive touchdown. Wake Forest’s attempt to answer ended with freshman quarterback John Wolford getting sacked for the seventh time.
Louisiana-Monroe, having finally worn down the Deacons’ defense, drove to the Wake Forest 13 during the waning seconds before Thomas knelt to the ground on the game’s final two plays. The Warhawks gained 112 of their 352 yards on their final two possessions.
“For me the feeling is even worse, knowing we stuffed them for four quarters and we still lost,” safety Ryan Janvion said. “But it’s a loss.”
With that loss, the Deacons squandered one of the dominant defensive performances in recent history. Brandon Chubb, a redshirt junior linebacker, amassed nine unassisted tackles and assisted on nine more for a total of 18.
It was the most tackles by a Wake Forest player since Brad White’s 24 against Navy in 2002.
“I tried my hardest and left it all out there,” Chubb said. “To come away with a loss is just devastating.
“But I know we can bounce back from it. We’ve just got to work and I’ve got to do two-times what I did tonight next week.”
The Deacons will play Gardner-Webb on Sept. 6 in the home opener at BB&T Field.
Wake Forest’s only touchdown came early when Steve Donatell blocked a punt that Kevin Johnson recovered in the end zone. The Deacons’ only other points came on Mike Weaver’s 38-yard field goal with 43 seconds left in the first half.
With Wolford having little time to operate and the offensive line opening few holes for running back Orville Reynolds, Wake Forest managed only 94 yards and five first downs. After taking a 10-0 halftime lead, the Deacons picked up only 25 yards and two first downs during the final two quarters.
Wolford, a freshman from Jacksonville, Fla., completed 12 of 22 passes for 97 yards. He threw one interception, which bounced off the hands of receiver Matt James before being picked off by Mitch Lane and returned 31 yards for the Warhawks’ first touchdown.
Reynolds, a senior running back, led Wake Forest with 37 yards on 16 carries.
The Deacons, as a team, finished with minus-3 yards rushing. It was the first time Louisiana-Monroe held an opponent to fewer than 100 yards since the Warhawks held Northwestern State to 63 in 2005.
“Obviously we got nothing going offensively the whole game,” Clawson said. “We didn’t block. We didn’t get open. We just played poorly.
“We struggled to block them. We really didn’t do anything well on offense.”
Lane’s interception return tied the score at 10 with 4:02 remaining in the third quarter, but it was three possessions later before the Warhawks embarked on the only touchdown drive. A 16-yard carry by Tyler Cain advanced the ball to the 31, and on the next play tight end Alec Osborne caught a pass from Thomas and slipped an attempted tackle by Chubb for a 15-yard gain.
“Actually I was going for the ball,” Chubb said. “I was just trying to make a play.
“I had (18) tackles, but that’s the only one I’m going to think about tonight – the one I missed.”
Thomas scored three plays later. A transfer from N.C. State, Thomas completed 23 of 41 passes for 189 yards and was sacked only once. Senior running back Centarius Donald gained 117 yards on 26 carries and Cain added 46 yards on 11 carries.
Donatell, bouncing back from a knee injury that wiped out last season, made the first big play of the Clawson era at Wake Forest at the end of Louisiana-Monroe’s first possession. Crashing up the middle, Donatell blocked the punt by senior captain Justin Manton with such force that the ball caromed from the Warhawks’ 25 into the end zone.
Johnson, a redshirt senior cornerback, recovered. It was the Deacons’ first blocked punt for a touchdown since Alphonso Smith blocked and recovered a punt at North Carolina in 2006.