When the final seconds ticked off the clock, Wake Forest's players doused their head coach with a cooler full of Gatorade, a celebration that was partially about a 34-26 win over Temple in the Military Bowl -- the Demon Deacons' first bowl win in eight years -- but also about a chance to finally change a storyline that has hovered over the program like a black cloud for the past two months.
This was a season of progress for coach Dave Clawson and the Deacons. After two straight 3-9 campaigns, Wake won five of its first six games, earned a bowl berth and looked competitive throughout. But when Clawson discovered parts of his playbook had been handed to Louisville before their Nov. 12 showdown, the narrative surrounding the Deacons became more mystery thriller than coming-of-age novel. Nevermind the progress. The season was all about WakeyLeaks.
The school investigated, a radio broadcaster was fired for being a mole and Wake fell apart down the stretch. But the Deacons insisted that wouldn't be the end of their story, and they proved that by toppling No. 24 Temple in the Military Bowl after a dominant first half led to the school's first win over a ranked foe since 2011.
The offensive success probably had far more to do with a young team getting a few extra weeks of practice. Just one senior had a touch on offense for the Deacons this year, and more than 80 percent of their scrimmage yards came from freshmen and sophomores. Getting to a bowl was a massive step forward, but also a chance to open up that much talked about playbook in December.
Wake unveiled an uptempo attack that appeared to take Temple by surprise and led to a 31-point first-half outburst. Quarterback John Wolford looked sharp, the ground game found room to run and an offense that has struggled to find any sort of big-play output in recent years converted a number of plays downfield.
It wasn't a vast conspiracy that eventually unraveled Wake's success. Instead it was an injury to Wolford, who came down awkwardly on his head after a third-quarter scramble and didn't return to action. With Kyle Kearns replacing him, the offense lost its spark and couldn't dent the scoreboard until John Armstrong's 80-yard kickoff return set up a late field goal. But the defense held its own, holding Temple to negative yardage on the ground, stuffing 11 of 12 third-down plays and extinguishing a final drive to secure the victory.
The win moved the ACC to 3-0 in bowl season and secured Wake's first bowl victory and first winning season since 2008.