3 takeaways from Wake Forest's dramatic comeback win against Pittsburgh
It took a little more than 3 minutes for Santino Marucci to go from unknown 3rd stringer to Wake Forest legend.
Facing a 3-point deficit and struggling in his 1st career start, the sophomore quarterback came alive by leading 2 dramatic 4th-quarter drives to lead Wake Forest to an unlikely 21-17 victory at Allegacy Stadium on Saturday.
His 15-yard touchdown pass to tight end Cameron Hite with just 7 seconds remaining to cap a wild finish that saw the teams combine for 3 touchdowns in the final 3:02 after managing only 17 points between them until then.
The victory didn’t just end Wake’s 3-game conference losing streak. It also improved the Deacons to 4-3 overall (1-3 ACC) and kept alive their reasonable hopes of returning to a bowl for the 8th straight season.
Pitt, meanwhile, saw its hopes dwindle even further in falling to 2-5 (1-3).
Here are 3 takeaways from the game and its fantastic finish:
Wake’s next man up
Things didn’t start out well for Wake Forest’s struggling offense. With starting quarterback Mitch Griffis unable to play because of an undisclosed injury or illness and backup Michael Kern sidelined because of an injury suffered last week at Virginia Tech, Marucci was pressed into service.
And it was a tossup as to who had the least confidence in Marucci – the quarterback himself or his coaches, whose play-calling was so conservative, it qualified them for membership in the Freedom Caucus. Coach Dave Clawson and offensive coordinator Warren Ruggiero had the redshirt sophomore throw the ball only when necessary. He attempted 21 passes, completing 12 for 151 yards, a touchdown and 2 interceptions.
But despite his struggles, Marucci hung in there and found a way to lead his team on a clutch 6-play, 89-yard drive for the Deacons’ 1st lead of the day with just over 3 minutes remaining. Then after Pitt answered right back, Marucci did it again by hitting tight end Hite for the winning score.
Wake’s top weapon
Marucci will get all the attention because of his late-game heroics. But he wouldn’t have had the opportunity to pull the game out with his 4th-quarter magic had it not been the running of teammate Demond Claiborne.
The sophomore speedster, who returned a kickoff for a 96-yard touchdown in last week’s loss at Virginia Tech, stood out again against the Panthers. He got the Deacons onto the scoreboard late in the 1st half by breaking several tackles on the way to a determined 18-yard run. He then gave his team its 1st lead by showing off his speed on a 42-yard dash with just over 3 minutes remaining.
He finished the game with 96 yards on 14 carries.
Pitt’s offensive spark
Panthers coach Pat Narduzzi explained his quarterback switch from Phi Jurkovec to Veilleux last week as an attempt to ignite a spark in his lackluster offense.
Veilleux didn’t put up sterling numbers in either last week’s upset of Louisville or Saturday’s game against Wake Forest. But the Penn State transfer proved he can get the job done when his team needs it most.
On Saturday, it came in the form of a clutch 7-play, 75-yard drive that answered Wake’s go-ahead touchdown. Veilleux hit Bub Means with a 22-yard pass with 1:30 remaining for his 2nd scoring pass of the day. He ended up completing 27-of-43 passes for 261 yards.