WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – Despite the cold, wet conditions, despite giving the ball away twice and despite surrendering a fourth-quarter lead, the Florida State football team still had a chance to escape Wake Forest’s BB&T Field with a win.
The rain and wind left over from Tropical Storm Nestor had other ideas.
Ricky Aguayo attempted a go-ahead, 50-yard field goal with 2:17 to play, but, despite having plenty of distance, the kick missed wide left. The Demon Deacons then ran as much clock as they could, and Florida State couldn’t muster any more offense in the waning moments of a 22-20 defeat to the Demon Deacons.
FSU (3-4, 2-3 ACC) has dropped consecutive games for the first time this season and will look to bounce back at home next week against Syracuse (3:30 p.m., ESPN2).
“That one hurt,” FSU coach Willie Taggart said. “I thought our football team played better in certain areas, but again, turnovers and penalties hurt us. Especially in critical situations.”
Indeed, the Seminoles turned the ball over twice, and although neither led directly to points for Wake Forest, they also robbed FSU of chances to score points of their own on a night when they were hard to come by.
That was especially true midway through the third quarter, when a promising drive that had reached Wake Forest’s 16-yard line ended in a Cam Akers fumble.
At that point, the Seminoles led 14-12 and seemed all but assured to extend their advantage.
“It’s very disappointing as a team, and for me personally,” Akers said. “Because I turned the ball over in a critical moment.”
The fumble marred an otherwise heroic effort from Akers: 30 carries, 199 total yards (157 rushing, 42 receiving) and two touchdowns.
“This game is one that’s a blow, but you’ve got to take it,” Akers said.
Wake Forest, meanwhile, got off to a hot start but was held in check by Florida State’s red-zone defense.
The Demon Deacons scored the game’s first nine points and scored five field goals, but all of them came from 27 yards or closer. Wake Forest sophomore Matt Sciba has made 23 consecutive kicks, the last of which was the game winner with 4:27 to play.
For a while, it seemed as though FSU’s success in defending the red zone might have made the difference.
Because after rallying from that early deficit, FSU led for much of the evening, finished with an advantage in total offense (449-424) and at one point forced five consecutive punts from Wake Forest.
When the Demon Deacons did strike, however, they did it in a big way. Starting in place of the injured Jamie Newman, reserve Sam Hartman completed 21 of 38 passes for 308 yards, a figure with includes gains of 51, 36, 36, 31, 27, 19 and 15 yards.
That FSU’s secondary played most of the game without starting safeties Cyrus Fagan and Hamsah Nasirildeen didn’t help either. Fagan missed the game with an injury, while Nasirildeen was ejected due to a targeting infraction on the game’s fifth play.
“You always want your best players out there, and losing him so early in the game, it’s tough,” Taggart said. “I know they picked on (freshman) Akeem (Dent) a little bit there. To have a veteran guy there probably would have helped.”
The teams traded scores early in the fourth quarter, with James Blackman’s 36-yard touchdown pass to Tamorrion Terry putting the Seminoles on top, 20-19, with 11:22 to play.
From there, the wet weather seemed like it might hold both teams off the scoreboard for the remainder of the evening. But the Demon Deacons mustered one more field goal – albeit a chip shot – while the Seminoles could not.
Taggart said after the game that Aguayo, scrutinized in recent weeks after a string of misses, had a perfect week of practice and that he felt confident that the senior would deliver.
Even in the weather, Taggart had good reason to think so. Aguayo came into the game 4-of-5 for his career from 50-plus yards, and he’d had a near spotless record when kicking on the road.
“Ricky had a good week of practice. He was 100-percent all week in practice,” Taggart said. “And he has a strong enough leg to make it, so we tried to go for it.”
After the kick sailed left, Wake Forest took over and drained the clock to under one minute. The Seminoles had one last, desperate possession that began at their 24-yard line with 35 seconds to play. But back-to-back fumbles, both recovered by the offense, put out any hopes for a miracle.
Blackman finished 27 of 43 for 280 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. He played the entire game after splitting snaps with Alex Hornibrook in recent weeks.
Linebacker Emmett Rice led the Seminoles’ defense with a career-high 14 tackles, including nine solo stops and a tackle for loss.
“You cannot hurt yourself and try to win a close ballgame like that tonight,” Blackman said. “If we don’t have the turnovers, if we don’t have the self-inflicted wounds, we’ll be in great position.”