Wake Forest ended 2021 on a high, beating Rutgers 38-10 in the Gator Bowl on Friday at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville, Florida.
The Demon Deacons' 11 wins tie a program record set in 2006.
They steadily wore down the Scarlet Knights, rolling up 453 total yards and scoring 24 unanswered points to close out the contest.
Head coach Dave Clawson and his staff only had around a week to draw up a new game plan after Rutgers replaced Texas A&M, which was forced to withdraw because of COVID-19-related issues.
In retrospect, the Big Ten may have wished Rutgers sat this one out. The result is the conference's first bowl loss of the 2021 season.
Sam Hartman, QB, Wake Forest: 23-of-39, 304 yards, three touchdowns; six carries, 21 yards
A.T. Perry, WR, Wake Forest: 10 receptions, 127 yards, one touchdown
Johnny Langan, QB, Rutgers: 2-of-2, 21 yards; six carries, 20 yards; six receptions, 57 yards
Hartman Exorcises Bowl Demons
Last year, Sam Hartman had a bowl season to forget. He threw four interceptions in the second half as Wake Forest suffered a 42-28 loss to Wisconsin in the Duke's Mayo Bowl.
The redshirt sophomore explained to ESPN's David M. Hale how he began to prioritize his mental health following that defeat, reflecting how he wishes he had earlier in life.
Hartman clearly wasn't weighed down from any memories of last December as he threw a pair of touchdown passes in the first quarter against Rutgers.
Wake Forest Football @WakeFB
ACC receivers with 15 touchdowns in a season:<br><br>◾️ <a href="https://twitter.com/atorian_perry?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@atorian_perry</a> - 2021<br>◾️ Kelvin Benjamin - 2013<br>◾️ Calvin Johnson - 2006<br>◾️ Andre Cooper - 1995<br><br>Tied for fifth in ACC history 📈 <a href="https://t.co/RUcM6WF37T">pic.twitter.com/RUcM6WF37T</a>
With the Demon Deacons offense sputtering a bit in the second half, Hartman broke off a 35-yard run on third down in the fourth quarter to get inside the red zone. Four plays later, he found Brandon Chapman for their second touchdown connection of the day.
His 50 total touchdowns in 2021 are the second-most in a single season by an ACC quarterback.
Hartman headlines a long list of starters set to return to Wake Forest in 2022. A second successive 10-win season is an attainable goal for next season.
Rutgers Offense Runs Into Same Problems
The Rutgers offense engineered a 12-play, 75-yard drive on its first possession of the game. Aaron Young capped it off with a 12-yard touchdown run.
Rutgers Football @RFootball
Aaron Young runs it in for the touchdown ‼️<br><br>The 12 play, 75-yard drive ties the game at 7 with 5:11 remaining in the first quarter. <a href="https://twitter.com/aaronyoung04?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@aaronyoung04</a> | <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/CHOP?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#CHOP</a> <a href="https://t.co/JHxIsIqmTB">pic.twitter.com/JHxIsIqmTB</a>
That wasn't a sign of things to come.
The Scarlet Knights were set up with a 1st-and-goal at the Wake Forest 10-yard line but had to settle for a 28-yard field goal from Valentino Ambrosio to make a 14-10 game. Their next trip into the red zone ended in an interception by Wake Forest defensive back Gavin Holmes.
After Hartman's touchdown passes, the Rutgers defense did a good job of stymying Wake Forest for stretches. The offense failed to capitalize, though, and that put far too much pressure on the defense over time.
All things considered, this wasn't a bad performance from Greg Schiano's team.
Nicole Auerbach @NicoleAuerbach
Rutgers is playing without a bunch of its best players (including its top WR and RB) in a game it found out it was playing 9 days ago. Against a top-20 team.<br><br>It's a 10-point game at the half. Rutgers is hanging in there (and had a chance to tie it up late in the 2Q).
Broadly speaking, Schiano has the program headed in a positive direction. On Friday, Rutgers was simply overmatched by a better team.