This week Dave Clawson brings his second Wake Forest Demon Deacons squad into Death Valley for the first time to take on Dabo Swinney's undefeated (10-0) and top-ranked Clemson Tigers. In a lopsided series that dates to the Great Depression, the Demon Deacons have long experienced more wrath than redemption in their depressing series with the Tigers. Only during World War II did Wake accomplish anything even suggesting Divine favor in their otherwise-damned effort to compete with Clemson on the gridiron. Hell may well freeze over if the Demon Deacons succeed in pulling off the most unlikely of upsets in 2015, but Dabo Swinney, like General George S. Patton before him, "wouldn't give a hoot in hell for anyone who lost, and laughed," and undoubtedly expects greatness from his men come Saturday after demanding excellence from them all week.
Clemson has more wins in its history against Wake Forest than any team not named the South Carolina Gamecocks (the Tigers are 66-42-4 against the chickens), sporting a dominant 62-17-1 (a 77.5% winning percentage) overall record in the series with the Demon Deacons. The genesis of this gridiron grudge match between Clemson and Wake Forest dates to 1933 (an important year in Clemson lore, as the Esso Club opened its doors and tapped its first kegs), and the two programs have met almost every year since (they did not play in 1934 or 1952). Between 1933 and 1949 both teams reached the promised-land eight times head-to-head, including a six-game winning streak for Wake between 1942 and 1947, and seven of eight between 1942 and 1949. Wake Forest Head Coach Peahead Walker presided at Wake while the legendary Frank Howard commanded at Clemson during this epoch, one in which Satan himself seems to have intervened on the Demon Deacons' behalf by afflicting mankind with Hitler's German Third Reich, Mussolini's Fascist Italy, and Emperor Michinomiya Hirohito's Japanese Empire during World War II. Clemson's proud military tradition prompted a mass exodus of cadets to combat the Axis Powers, and with the aid of Divine Providence many Tiger veterans helped topple the evil Axis alliance. Allied victory affected a devil's ransom for Wake Forest football, however, and it's had Hell to pay ever since in its series with Clemson. The Tigers have atoned for their wartime struggles against the Demon Deacons with a vengeance, dominating the series 54-9-1 since 1950, 52-9 since both programs became founding members of the Atlantic Coast Conference in 1953.
Of the Tigers' seventeen all-time losses to the Demon Deacons, only seven have occurred at home. The Tigers hold a commanding 36-7-0 record in Clemson, 31-7-0 in Memorial Stadium since its completion in 1942. With the 2015 Tigers playing host to the Demon Deacons again in Death Valley, a trinity of resounding Clemson wins over Wake Forest during especially epic seasons past draw our historical gaze, with the fervent hope that the victorious flame of yore will be rekindled in the present contest to secure future achievements that rival former glories.
In 1981 Danny Ford's third Clemson squad started the season unranked but surged up the polls to #3 after a 7-0 start entering the contest against Al Groh's inaugural Wake Forest team (unranked at 3-5) in week eight. The Tigers went on the offensive from the opening gun en route to a still-school-record 756 total yards on eighty-seven plays (sixty-eight carries for 536 yards and ten touchdowns on the ground, with another 220 yards and two touchdowns on 11 of 19 passing). Quarterback Homer Jordan directed this explosive record-setting attack, aided by wide receiver Perry Tuttle, running backs Cliff Austin and Jeff McCall, and an offensive line led by Lee Nanney and Tony Berryhill. The defense, meanwhile, rode the momentum provided by the offense to generally control a wide open Wake Forest attack that gained just 88 yards and a touchdown on the ground but threw for 270 yards and two touchdowns for 358 total yards of offense. That total would prove to be a season-high against a stout Tigers defense led by defensive tackles Jeff Byrant, William Devane, and William Perry, defensive end Andy Headen, linebacker Jeff Davis, and safety Terry Kinard. The final tally on the scoreboard showed an 82-24 Clemson victory, still the most points ever scored by the Tigers in an ACC game and now tied with the 2015 victory over Miami for largest margin of victory in an ACC game (John Heisman's 1901 squad shutout Guilford 122-0 to set the all-time overall record in both categories).
Clemson completed a magical season 12-0 (6-0 ACC Champions) by defeating #4 Nebraska 22-15 in the Orange Bowl to claim the program's only national championship as the nation's only undefeated team in 1981.Wake Forest would end the year 4-7 (1-5 ACC) and unranked.
In 1991 Ken Hatfield's second group of Tigers came into its annual bout with Wake Forest at 4-1-1 and #16 in the country, while Bill Dooley's fifth and penultimate Demon Deacons team came in 1-6 and in the throes of a six-game losing streak. Quarterback DeChane Cameron guided the Tigers' option attack that included running backs Rodney Blunt, Ronald Williams, and Rudy Harris, as well as speedy receivers Terry Smith and Larry Ryan, behind an offensive line led by Bruce Bratton, Jeb Flesch, Stacy Seegars, and Curtis Whitley. The defense boasted a roster chock-full of stars, including defensive linemen Rob Bodine, Brentson Buckner, and Chester McGlockton, linebackers Levon Kirkland, Ed McDaniel, Wayne Simmons, and Ashley Sheppard, and safety Robert O'Neal. Clemson ended the day on the correct end of a 28-10 ledger, and would finish the season as ACC champions at 9-2-1 (6-0-1) and ranked #17/#18 in the AP/Coaches polls. Wake Forest finished the year unranked at 3-8 (1-6 ACC).
In 2011 Dabo Swinney's third Clemson squad came into its ACC Atlantic Division match with Jim Grobe's eleventh Wake Forest team at 8-1 and #9 in the nation, but were coming off the lone loss on the road to Georgia Tech the previous week looking for redemption against Grobe's unranked, 5-4 Demon Deacons. Led offensively by quarterback Tajh Boyd's 343 yards and two touchdowns on 27/43 passing and running back Andre Ellington's 98 yards and two touchdowns rushing, the Tigers needed a last-second 43-yard field goal by Chandler Catanzaro to beat a scrappy Demon Deacons squad 31-28. The win secured the division title and a spot in the ACC championship game. Despite 522 yards of total offense, the Tigers struggled to put the game away, as they committed three costly turnovers to keep the feisty Deacons in it to the end. Boyd distributed his passing yards and touchdowns to a plethora of talented targets that included freshman phenom Sammy Watkins (5 catches, 62 yards), sophomore sensation Deandre "Nuk" Hopkins (3 catches, 38 yards), junior statesman Jaron "Third Down" Brown (6 catches, 78 yards, 1 touchdown), and tight ends Dwayne Allen (4 catches, 48 yards) and Brandon Ford (5 catches, 51 yards, 1 touchdown). The defense led by defensive linemen Brandon Thompson, Andre Branch, and Kourtnei Brown, linebacker Jonathan "Tig" Willard, and defensive backs Coty Sensabaugh and Rashard Hall struggled to contain Wake Forest running back Brandon Pendergrass (20 carries, 134 yards, 2 toughdowns) and wide receiver Michael Campanaro (9 catches, 72 yards) but stiffened enough when it mattered most in the fourth quarter to give the offense a chance to win it.
Clemson would finish the year as ACC champions after dismantling the Virginia Tech Hokies 38-10 in Charlotte, NC in the ACC title game, punching their BCS ticket for the Orange Bowl in Miami against West Virginia. The Tigers' final 10-4 (6-2 ACC) record accounted for the program's first ten-win season since 1990, and the conference championship was the first since 1991. It would initiate an unprecedented run of success that has yet to cease. Wake Forest, by contrast, would finish unranked at 6-7 (5-3 ACC).
As the Clemson Family celebrates another brood of senior Tigers to matriculate through the hallowed halls of Clemson University with their degrees; as we commemorate the esteemed military service and tradition that has emanated from the hallowed ground where the Blue Ridge yawns its greatness, let us all come together in communion to exorcise the Demon Deacons in gridiron victory, that the Tigers' roar may echo o'er the mountain height one last time this season.