Army running back Terry Baggett (31) is tackled by Wake Forest safety A.J. Marshall (17) on Sept. 21 in West Point, N.Y. Wake Forest won, 25-11. (Mike Groll / AP)
WEST POINT, N.Y. — Without its top two runners, Army’s triple option wasn’t really purring and the Black Knights suffered.
Josh Harris ran for two second-half touchdowns and Wake Forest rallied past the Black Knights 25-11 on Saturday at Michie Stadium as the Black Knights (1-3) made too many mistakes to hold a brief second-half lead.
Seeking his third straight 1,000-yard season, Raymond Maples did not dress for Army, breaking his streak of 17 straight starts, and fullback Larry Dixon didn’t play, either. Both continue to recover from lower-body injuries suffered last week in a home loss to No. 5 Stanford.
Although Maples had had limited success in the first three games, Dixon had three touchdowns and was averaging 7.8 yards per carry. Their presence was missed against Wake Forest’s stout defense as Army’s triple option finished with 284 yards on 55 carries, outgained per carry by the Demon Deacons and netting just 11 points on four drives into the red zone.
“We’ll have to slow it down and see,” Army coach Rich Ellerson said. “We need to find some production, there is no doubt.”
Army also was done in by its lack of discipline, called for eight penalties for 45 yards, including four false starts, a killer for a team whose offense relies on grinding it out in small doses.
“Execution killed a lot of our momentum, along with the false starts in the middle of drives and at the end of drives,” said Army running back Terry Baggett, who had a career-high 125 yards rushing on 16 carries. “If we get those out of our game, we’ll get small plays. We don’t need big plays.”
Quarterback Angel Santiago added 60 yards rushing and Daniel Grochowski kicked a career-high three field goals for Army.
After a win over a lower-echelon team to open the season and two straight losses, Wake Forest was nearing the abyss with Atlantic Coast Conference play and powerhouse Clemson looming on the schedule.
That abyss is gone for the time being.
“We were coming out of a valley and we rose to the top,” said Wake Forest nose tackle Nikita Whitlock, who had 14 tackles. “We’ve had our ups and downs.”
It was the seventh straight victory in the series for Wake Forest (2-2), which overcame four costly errors and nine penalties.
“We came in here to win today,” Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe said. “You can beat around the bush all you want, but we needed to win.”
Trailing 11-10 late in the third quarter, Wake Forest slowly assumed control as Harris came alive after a lackluster first half. Held to 26 yards on 10 carries in the opening half, he scored on a 15-yard run up the middle late in the third and gained 58 yards on seven carries on a decisive 62-yard drive midway through the fourth, scoring on a 6-yard run with 9:01 left.
“I spoke with my coach at halftime, and he told us where the holes should be, and they were,” Harris said. “They (the Black Knights) were a lot bigger than I thought they were. We know that there’s no team that we play that isn’t tough on defense. I talked to myself, and I just focused on making sure I had the intensity that I needed.”
This was not the same Army team that fought No. 5 Stanford to a near standstill last week, when it was whistled for just two penalties and won the turnover battle against an elite team before falling 34-20. The Black Knights lost two fumbles and gave up 228 yards rushing to the Demon Deacons.
“Every week is a battle. Every week is its own monster,” Ellerson said. “We had some built-in challenges coming out of last week. We kicked three field goals and got a safety. That’s going to make it hard to win a Division I game.”
Michael Campanaro, who tied an ACC record with 16 catches for a career-high 177 yards in last week’s 21-19 home loss to Louisiana-Monroe, finished with four catches for 91 yards for Wake Forest, including a 66-yard TD in the second quarter. Tanner Price was 6 of 17 for 132 yards passing with one interception and gained 66 yards rushing on 11 carries.
Still, despite four punts and two lost fumbles in the first half, Army trailed only 10-5 at the break as Wake Forest also sputtered offensively. The Demon Deacons had a missed field goal, suffered a safety, an interception and a lost fumble in the opening half.
“It’s a simple game. It’s just hard to execute,” Whitlock said. “’’We think we’re the best defense in the country, and we try to show the nation how good we are.”
Army went ahead 11-10 on a pair of 32-yard field goals in the third quarter by Grochowski.
The one-point lead was short-lived as Price gave his teammates a charge. He rushed twice for 11 yards and then hit tight end Spencer Bishop for a 39-yard gain to set up Harris’ 15-yard touchdown run up the middle. Price hit Jonathan Williams along the back of the end zone for the two-point conversion to give the Deacons an 18-11 lead with 1:42 left in the third quarter.
Wake Forest gave Army a dose of its own medicine on the decisive final scoring drive, running the ball nine straight times in taking 4:38 off the clock.
“We lost. We’re not playing to lose out there,” Army safety Geoffery Bacon said. “No disrespect to Wake Forest, but we beat ourselves.”