CHARLOTTESVILLE — Wake Forest turned two weeks of turmoil into a turnaround it hopes will lead the Demon Deacons to a bowl game.
Chad Hedlund kicked three field goals and Wake Forest returned from an open week with a much-improved defense and beat mistake-prone Virginia, 16-10, on Saturday, sending the Cavaliers to their sixth consecutive loss.
The victory came two weeks after Coach Jim Grobe suspended six players for the Demon Deacons’ loss at Maryland for violating team rules, and with two new players sidelined for the same thing in the midst of losing three out of four games.
“We came out today fired up,” said quarterback Tanner Price, who completed just seven passes and led an offense that gained just 213 yards. “We realized the importance of this game and we realized that we really needed to get back on track.”
They wasted no time, either, forcing Virginia to punt and getting a 60-yard return by Lovell Jackson to the Cavaliers 16. On the next play, Josh Harris went around the right side and all the way to the end zone, a six-second, seven-point possession.
“As soon as that happens, it kind of gives you a good vibe about the entire game,” Harris said.
The Demon Deacons (4-3, 2-3 Atlantic Coast Conference) came in allowing more than 206 rushing yards and 31 points, but held the Cavaliers to 48 yards on 32 carries. They also stymied a late Virginia drive with two huge plays — a six-yard loss on second down and an 11-yard sack of Phillips Sims by Tylor Harris on third down.
The Cavaliers (2-6, 0-4) had driven to the Demon Deacons 36 before those two plays.
On its previous drive, Virginia reached the Wake Forest 34 and faced second and one when Sims tried to float a pass to 5-foot-11 wide receiver Darius Jennings near the end zone. Instead, Demon Deacons 6-1 cornerback Kevin Johnson got inside position on the throw and intercepted, ending the possession. Johnson had also recovered a fumble earlier.
“He kind of threw it up there and I just tried to make a play,” Johnson said. “I don’t know if he got hit or what.”
The final straw came with 1 minute 59 seconds left when Virginia forced a punt, and the ball hit returner Khalek Shepherd near the shoulders and bounced away, Joe LaBarbera recovering for the Demon Deacons to essentially finish it. The losing streak is Virginia’s longest since the final six games of Al Groh’s tenure in 2009.
“I want to play again right now,” Virginia defensive tackle Chris Brathwaite said. “I’d rather play tomorrow. These last six games, you build up a lot of anger and aggression and you want to just go out and beat up on the person in front of you.”
Virginia’s third and final turnover was among several special teams miscues for Virginia in the game.