Nov. 29, 2008
||(Photo by Stan Jones)
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Audio: Joe Fisher's Interview with Coach Johnson
Audio: Kevin Ingram's Interview with P. Benoist
Audio: 104.5 Play of the Game - L. Smith TD
WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (AP) -- Alphonso Smith's record-tying 20th career interception set up Rich Belton's game-clinching touchdown run, and Wake Forest beat Vanderbilt 23-10 on Saturday to boost its bowl prospects.
Brandon Pendergrass and Kevin Harris also had rushing touchdowns for the Demon Deacons (7-5), who closed the regular season with a victory that should give them a school-record three consecutive bowl trips.
Redshirt freshman Larry Smith made his college debut in the second half for Vanderbilt (6-6), throwing a 5-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Barden on fourth down on the first play of the fourth quarter to cut Wake's lead to 17-10.
But Smith, throwing from his own end zone, was intercepted by Alphonso Smith with 4:14 left. Playing in his final home game, Smith tied former North Carolina cornerback Dre' Bly's Atlantic Coast Conference career interception record.
Belton's 4-yard run two plays later sent the Commodores to their sixth loss in seven games after a 5-0 start.
Chip Vaughn had an interception and recovered a fumble as the Demon Deacons held the Commodores to 249 yards.
A persistent rain, wind and a temperature dipping into the upper 30s led to a half-filled stadium and plenty of sloppiness in a game involving two teams that came in mired in late-season slumps.
And while Vanderbilt is guaranteed its first bowl appearance since 1982 despite its second straight loss, Wake Forest entered the night in a much more precarious position.
Wins earlier in the day by Clemson (7-5) and North Carolina State (6-6) gave the Atlantic Coast Conference 10 bowl-eligible teams for nine guaranteed slots.
Wake's two-game losing streak coming in and small fan base were causes for concern, underscored by the lack of bowl representatives at BB&T Field.
A Chick-fil-A Bowl rep was watching, but he was eyeing Vanderbilt as the possible Southeastern Conference team in the Atlanta bowl. Like the ACC, that league's bowl situation was in flux after losses by LSU, South Carolina, Kentucky and Vanderbilt in the final weekend. The Liberty Bowl is another place the Commodores could land.
Harris' 8-yard touchdown run in a driving rain midway through the third quarter made it 17-3. Pendergrass' 6-yard scamper, capping a 98-yard drive early in the second quarter, put Wake Forest ahead to stay in a game Vanderbilt coach Bobby Johnson tinkered with his struggling offense.
Mackenzi Adams came in after Chris Nickson was banged up on the fourth offensive play. Nickson returned in the second quarter when Adams injured his right shoulder on a combined sack by Matt Robinson and Boo Robinson.
After the pair combined to complete only 5 of 18 passes in the first half, Johnson turned to Smith after halftime.
Smith completed 9 of 17 passes for 46 yards and was sacked twice.
Riley Skinner was 13 of 20 for 173 yards for Wake Forest.