WINSTON-SALEM — Louisiana-Monroe might have torn the heart out of Wake Forest on Saturday if the Deacons had one to spare.
And on offense, at least, that wasn’t always the case in the Warhawks’ 21-19 victory in front of a restive, early-departing crowd of 26,505 at BB&T Field.
“We’ve got to have a lot more heart out there on offense,” quarterback Tanner Price said. “It seems like we are lacking that at times.”
Coach Jim Grobe had a similar observation in the aftermath of one of the most distressing performances of his 12-plus seasons at Wake Forest. The Deacons drove 97 yards in the final two minutes to score the touchdown that gave them a chance to force overtime, only to have perhaps their best player, flanker Michael Campanaro, drop a pass in the end zone. Completion of the two-point conversion would have tied the game.
The loss to the Warhawks, of the Sun Belt Conference, dropped the Deacons to 1-2 going into two road games, at Army and Clemson.
“The way we’re playing right now on offensive – with the lack of intensity – it doesn’t matter what we’re doing,” Grobe said. “We’re just a very lethargic, sloppy offensive football team right now.
“That’s me. That’s the head coach, because I control my assistants, and the assistants coach the kids, and I stand there every day in practice, and I watch them. We’ve got to turn the volume up, and that’s my responsibility, and that will be done.”
For all of their struggles on offense – a long list that included only 15 rushing yards on 15 carries, four sacks of Price and two first downs over the first six possessions of the second half – the Deacons still could have saved the day in the final dizzying moments.
Starting from its 3-yard line with just 1:59 remaining, Wake Forest blitzed through the Louisiana-Monroe defense as Price completed 8 of 11 passes.
Campanaro caught four of the passes for 58 yards, and in the process tied his ACC record with 16 receptions. But after Price found Orville Reynolds in the back of the end zone for a 23-yard touchdown with four seconds left, Campanaro asked Price to find him on the conversion attempt.
Price did, but Campanaro dropped the pass that, although low, hit him in the chest.
“I told Tanner to come to me,’’ Campanaro said. “He did, and I just dropped it. I was a tough play, and I’ve got to be better than that.
“It hit me right in the chest. I knew there was only one spot he could have thrown it, and I knew where it was at. It was just dropped. It’s tough right now, just being a captain of the offense and stuff.
“I’ve got to make that play.”
Price said that the loss can’t be hung on one play, and other Deacons agreed.
“That’s crazy,” offensive tackle Steven Chase said of Campanaro’s drop. “I was talking in the locker room, ‘That’s our best offensive player who is going to make that catch maybe 99 times out of 100.’
“Tanner made a great play, he got out of the pocket. He was hurried, but it worked out. And if you told me to pick anyone, I’d pick (Campanaro) to catch the ball.”
The Warhawks, with senior quarterback Kolton Browning completing 43 of 68 passes for 315 yards and three touchdowns, scored touchdowns on drives of 69, 81 and 74 yards – though the second drive was extended on a roughing-the-punter penalty against senior linebacker Justin Jackson. Louisiana-Monroe converted 15 of 28 third-down attempts, and that helped it overcome three interceptions, a botched 26-yard field-goal attempt and a miss by kicker Justin Manton from just 25 yards away.
Wake Forest carried the momentum into the locker room after driving from its 25 in the final 41 seconds of the first half to pull to 14-13 on Chad Hedlund’s 38-yard field goal. But Louisiana-Monroe answered by marching for a touchdown on its first possession of the second half, scoring on Browning’s 9-yard pass to Tavarese Maye.
After managing two first downs on their second possession of the second half, which ended in a punt from midfield, the Deacons ran three plays and punted the next four times they had the ball.
When they finally came alive in the final two minutes, it proved to be too little too late.
Price completed 28 of 47 passes, and Campanaro had the 16 catches for 117 yards, but the one play that will be remembered was the last one.
“If you just sit around on your heels and just wait for it to happen, then you’re going to run out of time,” Grobe said. “I thought we really seemed to have a sense of urgency when there was about 40 seconds left to go, and that’s not a real good thing to do.
“We’ve just got to find a way to gain a sense of urgency. And that’s not pointing at any one kid, and that’s not pointing at any one coach – other than me. We’ve got to get a spark. Somewhere we’ve got to get a spark.
“We’ve got to get something going, and we’re going to start on that Monday morning.”