Monday, December 18, 2006

Paved with oranges

My mom and dad were kind enough to get me a season ticket for the gridiron Deacs again this season and I gladly accepted. Even though Wake was coming off three consecutive losing seasons, head coach Jim Grobe sounded opitimistic in preseason. He returns an experienced team, and these days, six wins gets you in a bowl game. Maybe the Deacs will get a chance to play on the blue turf of Boise or, if they can squeeze out seven or eight wins, a short postseason trip to Charlotte may be in the works. It didn't really matter, catching Wake football was good way to get together with the parents.

It all starts on a warm Labor Day weekend. The Syracuse Orangemen roll into to town courtesy of East Carolina. The Orange landed on Wake's schedule because ECU wanted out of its contract with WFU. To get out, Pirates AD Terry Holland worked out a deal where he convinced Syracuse to give up its game with his team and replace it with Wake. I'm not sure who ECU ended up playing. Anyway, Syracuse represents a good target to start aiming for a winning season. They finished 1-10 in '05 and had numerous offensive woes. Wake even comes into the game as something like a 102-point favorite. Actually, I think the spread was Wake -22, a rarity for sure.

Much of the Deacs' hopes rest with QB Ben Mauk, back from a season lost to injury and running back Micah Andrews, a solid back up to '05 ACC player of the year Chris Barclay. Andrews also has an impressive pedigree. He's the son of William Andrews a former RB with the Atlanta Falcons, who starred at Auburn during his college years. The defense looks sound too, anchored by ferocious-hitting middle linebacker Jon Abbate and canny fifth-year senior safeties Josh Gattis and Patrick Ghee. Backing it all up is sure-footed kicker Sam Swank who will also handle punting duties. Maybe the Deacs would send the Orange back north all whupped up.

Things start nicely enough. Wake drives 96 yards for a score on its second drive, but Syracuse matches it with a long drive of its own. The next thing you know, the game turns into a slog. With the game tied at 10 at the half, it looks like a good weekend to bet on the Orangemen to cover.

After an exchange of turnovers to start the third quarter, Mauk finally has the Deacs driving. Approaching the redzone, Mauk hands off to back up tailback D'Angelo Bryant who lays the ball on the brand new Groves Stadium prescription turf. An alert Mauk falls on the fumble, but a big pile lands on top of him. It was no surprise the hit shook up Big Ben, but it soon becomes apparent he's hurting badly. A stretecher comes onto the field and out goes Mauk. I had no idea who backed him up. Number 11 came onto the field. I thought I heard the public address announcer calls him something Skinner. For his first college play ever, he lines up in the shotgun on third down. Wide receiver Willie Idlete comes in motion from Skinner's right. The young QB calls for the snap just as Idlete approaches center Steve Justice's posterior. A fleet-footed receiver, he's not going to avoid the pigskin striking his shin. Idlete covers the fumble and gives kicker Sam Swank a chance to put the Deacs in the lead with a field goal. Swank delivers. The defense gave up nothing the rest of the way and the freshman QB, I can't say I remembered his name at the time, leads the Deacs on a touchdown drive to salt away a 20-10 win.

Riding away from the stadium with my parents during a sudden shower, we listen to the postgame show on the radio. My dad asks me if I remember the name of the freshman quarterback. I say I think it might be Ricky Skinner or is his name Riley Swanson, wait Riley Swanson is a cornerback. Anyway, Grobe had already received word that Ben Mauk had broken his upper arm. He was done for the season. Hearing the news, I almost forget a promo shown on the jumbotron during the first half. The ACC champion has a new home. The road to glory is paved in oranges, (not Orangemen). The winner of the ACC title wins an automatic bid to the Orange Bowl. Well, maybe the Deacs will stomp Duke next week.

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