Wake Forest went to Charlottesville for its game at Virginia Saturday afternoon looking to stop the bleeding coming off three losses in its last four games, all in ACC play, as well as a substantial number of personnel issues, including multiple injuries and player suspensions.
But the Demon Deacons put forth a vintage effort on defense, completely shutting down the Cavaliers for much of the day to hang on for a sloppy 16-10 triumph at Scott Stadium.
For Wake Forest (4-3, 2-3 ACC) the biggest offensive fireworks came very early.
After stopping Virginia on its opening offensive possession, Deacs punt returner Lovell Jackson caught a punt around his own 28 yard line, broke outside, then inside for 15 yards, and then back towards the sidelines again around midfield, where he found a lot of running room.
It appeared for a second that Jackson might be gone, but Virginia finally forced him out of bounds around the UVa 16-yard line.
It didn't take long for Wake to capitalize following the 60-yard punt return by Jackson, as the Deacs came out in the 'Wildcat' formation and veteran tailback Josh Harris took a direct shotgun snap and followed several blockers right on his way to the goal line on Wake's first offensive play from scrimmage.
Surprisingly though, that touchdown on the first play would be the only one the Deacons could muster all afternoon.
But Wake Forest's defense came out aggressive and focused, making life difficult for Virginia quarterback Phillip Sims from the outset.
The Deacs controlled the line of scrimmage and neutralized Virginia's running game from the very beginning.
Impressively, the Demon Deacon defense held Virginia to just 48 rushing yards and 1.5 yards per carry on the day.
Sophomore defensive back Kevin Johnson had perhaps the game of his life for the Deacs, making multiple key plays on defense including a big tackle for loss in the first half, a fumble recovery when the Cavaliers were driving in the third quarter, and an interception on a deep ball by Sims several minutes into the fourth period.
Those two Virginia turnovers, combined with a series of penalties and other miscues, had as much of an effect for Wake Forest in the win than anything the offense did.
Once again without Michael Campanaro, the Deacons were inconsistent offensively and rarely put themselves in position to score without help from UVa.
Tanner Price completed just seven of 19 passes on the afternoon for 102 yards in one of his bigger struggles over the past couple of years, while Wake's leading receiver, Brandon Terry, had just one catch, a 41-yarder inside Virginia's 10-yard line in the final minute of the first half that set up the second of Chad Hedlund's three field goals.
UVa's biggest highlight offensively came on a 13-yard pass from Sims to Tim Smith with just 20 seconds left in the second quarter, tying the game 7-7.
Price's pass to Terry gave the Deacons much-needed momentum, along with three key points to take a 10-7 halftime advantage, and the second half wound up becoming a nerve-wracking game of defensive consistency and ball control.
It was certainly not the greatest performance by any means in a Wake Forest victory, but it was classic Jim Grobe football. The Deacs didn't turn the ball over a single time. They committed only three penalties.
In other words, they didn't beat themselves, which is precisely what a lot of people will write Virginia did.
Virginia's last and perhaps biggest miscue, a botched punt return that was recovered by Joe LaBarbera, sealed the victory for the Demon Deacons.
With the win, the Demon Deacons still have a shot at finishing with a winning record in ACC play, as well as qualifying for a bowl in what will undoubtedly be a big challenge Thursday night in Groves Stadium against Clemson.
Stay tuned to DeaconsIllustrated.com for more from Wake Forest's important conference victory Saturday afternoon over the Cavaliers.