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Vanderbilt beats Wake Forest 24-20 in season opener

Posted Friday, September 2, 2005

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Winston-Salem, N.C. - Jeff Jennings scored from 5 yards out with 1:48 to play Thursday night to help Vanderbilt beat Wake Forest 24-20 and win a season opener for the first time in eight years.

Jay Cutler threw for 276 yards and a score while running for 89 more for the Commodores. Jennings ran for just 43 yards, but finished with two scores - the last helping Vanderbilt shake off a blown 11-point, third-quarter lead.

Herdley Harrison added a key 18-yard sack on the Demon Deacons' final drive after Wake Forest had pushed to the Commodores' 30 with less than a minute to play.

Micah Andrews ran for a career-best 254 yards on 34 carries for the Demon Deacons, who appeared ready to shake their late-game troubles from last year and stay unbeaten in home openers under fifth-year coach Jim Grobe.

Both teams had trouble finishing close games last year, combining to lose 11 games by seven or fewer points. But this time, Vanderbilt - which appeared headed for another late disappointment when Benjamin Mauk scored on a 1-yard keeper for a 20-17 lead with 10 minutes left - managed to come out ahead at the end.

Trailing by three, the Commodores put together a four-play, 49-yard drive, starting with a 28-yard pass from Cutler to Earl Bennett. Then, after Cutler connected with George Smith for a 7-yard gain, Jennings carried twice for the final 14 yards and a 24-20 lead.

The Demon Deacons tried to answer, getting several clutch throws from Mauk to reach the 30. But on a second-and-10, Harrison beat Wesley Bryant around the left side and ran a retreating Mauk down near midfield with 31 seconds left.

After Mauk threw a third-down incompletion, his final heave to Chris Davis was broken up at the goal line by Josh Allen. Cory Randolph, who split time with Mauk at quarterback before moving to wideout this year, made a diving stab at the deflected ball only to be ruled out of bounds near the 2.

The play stood up after a review, sending the Commodores into sideline celebration.

Andrews was filling in for two-time all-Atlantic Coast Conference running back Chris Barclay, who was suspended for the opener. Wake Forest didn't miss its star rusher, but the Demon Deacons had a series of small breakdowns throughout the game - including a fumble by Mauk inside Vanderbilt's 5 - that proved costly by the time Jennings scored the winner.


Quoting Wake Forest head coach Jim Grobe

On the late fourth quarter series:

"We had a really poor series. We had a chance to kill some clock, and we made a couple of mistakes. They turned some players loose on defense, and we had a mediocre punt. We just put ourselves in a bad position. We were in a position to win the game but didn't do it."

On the last Vanderbilt series:

"I think they kept us off balance with their quarterback running the football. I think as much as anything, they executed two or three really good plays. They were fired up, and had a chance to kill it, and we didn't do it. You probably can't be any more soft than we were at the end. We had a really poor offensive series and not a very good punt and giving them that kind of field position with that time on the clock hurt."

On the game:

"I think we have a lot of talent. There are no excuses whatsoever. We made too many mistakes to win. I was fairly excited with some of the young guys that played tonight. We'll get better as they get in more games. Soon, we'll go back and see how many mistakes were made by guys who shouldn't be making those mistakes."

On missed opportunities:

"We did not do a very good job once we got down inside the 30 yard line. Not only that, but we went backwards a couple times. We had a great opportunity slip through our fingers when we intercepted the pass (at the end of the third quarter). Those are just opportunities you can not let go. I really knew that they had an explosive offense and had a chance to do some things, but we'll see how the defense played. I thought the times we played really good, I was impressed. These young guys made some plays, but I really think that we'll get back tomorrow and see that we had so many opportunities to put points on the board."

Quoting Wake Forest sophomore quarterback Benjamin Mauk

On Vanderbilt:

"They had a really good quarterback and schemes on defense and it is tough to beat a team like that. There is so much going on in the world right now and you see everything that is happening in New Orleans and it is really hard to focus. You have two or three hours to take your mind off everything that is going on the in world and to concentrate on football. It is really hard to focus right now but I think that we will be able to get back on track and be ready next week."

On the electricity during preseason:

"It is tough to realize how excited and how anticipated the season was and then to start off with a loss. We have to put it behind us and focus on Nebraska."

On if they had a chance to win before the sack:

"I think we had a chance to win both before and after the sack. It was a tough decision. I really couldn't get out and I was going to try and throw it away but he tripped me up. I thought I was going to be able to keep my feet but I really didn't want to fumble it again so I took the sack.

Quoting Wake Forest sophomore Micah Andrews

In the amount of yards that he had:

"I wish I could take some of (the yards) back and get the win. I mean if we could take away from my personal stats to get the win, I would like to do that. We didn't execute and we had too many mistakes and Vanderbilt just came out on top. "

On losing close games:

"The losses are not demoralizing. Of course it is tough, but it is football, that is the name of the game. If you lose by one it is a loss and if you win by one, it is a win. We need to play more flawlessly. We had a lot of mistakes and those add up in the end."

On the sack at the end of the game:

"We didn't protect well and that will always be a problem with us, neither late in the game nor at beginning of the game. Playing a team that good, you will only get so many chances."

Quoting Wake Forest sophomore Matt Robinson

"We are going to have to go in and watch film. I think I missed a tackle and that just can't happen. I can take the blame for that and I have no problem with that. But that wasn't the only problem. We just pretty much didn't get it done the entire game. We will have to come in and watch film because this is just not acceptable. No more losses are acceptable. We are too young. We are going to come in and go back to work and get this thing turned around."

Quoting Vanderbilt head coach Bobby Johnson

On the game:

"They're never easy, I'll guarantee you that. We're very proud of the way our guys played, especially in the fourth quarter. It was a tough game against a tough team. They ran the ball down our throat and somehow we found a way to win the football game. I am proud of our guys."

On being worried from the sidelines and being mentally tougher:

"We were positive last year, and we are positive this year. We weren't worried. We're mentally tougher. We've done some of that in practice recently. We've gotten to know certain situations. We actually scored too quick, but you can't argue with that. It would have been nice to take 30 or 40 more seconds off that clock, but you can't argue with points when you get them. The defense hung on and I don't know who voted in instant replay, but it just about stopped my heart. When they announced that they were going to review the play, I thought it was a bad idea."

On evaluating the defense:

"We're going to look at the film. We were in situations when we did a lot of good things, but we missed a lot of tackles. We weren't very tough on the line of scrimmage. They ran the ball extremely well. We did make plays. When somebody's running on you that many times, you have the chance to make a few negative plays. Benjamin Mauk was hard to hem up and hard to contain. We had great coverage a lot of the time, but he made things work when he was running the football on the perimeter."

On winning games in the fourth quarter:

"We're pretty happy right now, I'll tell you that. Our guys are celebrating in there and I want them to. I want them to be happy and want them to enjoy this. Normally they're capable of doing that. Everything is a learning process. Hopefully, this will be a good lesson, we've had some bad lessons, and this will be a good one."

Quoting Vanderbilt senior quarterback Jay Cutler

On the game:

"It was a huge team effort. Our offensive line did a tremendous job all night long. In the fourth quarter, I decided to stay in the pocket. We were confident all night long. We moved the ball well. We shot ourselves in the foot from time to time. Earl Bennett came out as a true freshman and turned a five yard hitch into a 20 or 30 yard gain and that got us going."

Quoting Vanderbilt junior wide receiver Marlon White

On the game:

"We have all the confidence in the world in our defense. We had been preaching all summer that we're going to do it in the fourth quarter. This will give us a whole lot of confidence. Since the staff has been here, this is the first opening win. This is a statement game, because we not only won our season opener but it was a close game."

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Vanderbilt beats Wake Forest 24-20 in season opener
Micah Andrews ran for a career-best 254 yards on 34 carries for the Demon Deacons.
photo by Gene Galin

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