Battle of the Quarterback at the 2017 Belk Bowl
It was a battle of the quarterback at the 2017 Belk Bowl on Friday. Wake Forest senior quarterback, John Wolford, threw for 400 yards with 4 touchdown passes and one lost fumble. Wolford has been the Demon Deacon’s rock this season and was expected to have a big game against the Aggie’s young, inexperienced secondary. The surprise came from Texas A&M freshman quarterback Nick Starkel. Starkel also threw for 4 touchdowns on 499 yards, but had one interception. Both quarterbacks posted a QB rating of over 75, Wolford at 76 and Starkel at 76.5. The difference came with a more balanced rushing attack for Wake Forest. Texas A&M running backs had a combined 115-yard rushing day, whereas the Demon Deacons Matt Colburn had 150 rushing yards alone.
Overall, the 2017 Belk Bowl was dominated by the offenses of both teams, but it was the Wake Forest defense that came up with the big stops in the fourth quarter when the game was on the line.
First Half Highlights
Texas A&M got out to an early lead in the first quarter on a blocked punt by the Aggies special teams that was returned for a touchdown. The Aggies defense quickly got another Demon Deacons punt and capitalized off of two passes by Starkel and then a 2-yard touchdown run by Trayveon Williams. The Aggies took a 14-0 lead within the first four minutes of the game. It was standout wide receiver, Christian Kirk, who got the Aggies down to the Wake Forest two-yard line. Kirk would go on to lead the team with three touchdowns on 189 receiving yards.
The first half did not continue to go in the Aggies favor as John Wolford started to get into rhythm. On five passes from Wolford, the Demon Deacons got their first touchdown of the day and just kept rolling. Wake Forest went on a 31-0 run before the Aggies would score again. The first half ended with Wake Forest in the lead 38-28. Both quarterbacks already had a combined six touchdown passes, Wolford with four and Starkel with two. The Aggies defense was practically nonexistent in the first half. They relied on the arm of Starkel to keep them in the game going into the half.
Second Half Highlights
The battle of the quarterback at the 2017 Belk Bowl really came to light in the second half. Starkel got to work early after a three and out stop by the Aggie defense. It took Starkel only four plays to throw a touchdown pass to his favorite receiver, Christian Kirk, bringing the Aggies within three.
It was also in the third quarter that the Demon Deacons had two costly fumbles. Furthermore, a moment when all Wake Forest fans held their breath, as Wolford was the most recent player on the ground with an injury. Following a sack and fumble by Wolford he had an apparent lower leg injury as he gingerly left the field. The Aggies capitalized off of both fumbles taking their first lead since four minutes into the first quarter. This lead was short lived though as Wolford was able to come back in the game and show the crowd and everyone captivated at home that he was okay with an 11-yard run. Running back Cade Carney, who was out since October with an injury, would get the Demon Deacons back on top with a touchdown run.
The next two drives were the epitome of the battle of the quarterback at the 2017 Belk Bowl. Both Wolford and Starkel led their teams down the field, both taking up a little over three minutes of play when the game was coming down to the wire to end their drives in touch downs. Wolford put Wake Forest up 55-52, where the game would end minutes later.
The final sting
In the end it was the Demon Deacon defense that came up big at the end of the game to seal the win. A costly delay of game penalty backed the Aggies up to their own 44-yard line. On 3rd and 15 and then 4th and 15 the Demon Deacons secondary came up huge. Two incomplete passes by Starkel sealed the game for Wake Forest.
This game was exactly what college football bowl games are about. Two 7-5 teams, one in a coaching transition, refusing to give up on a season that was filled let downs and an ACC underdog proving that they can play with anyone. It was a battle of the quarterback at the 2017 Belk Bowl and it did not disappoint.