WASHINGTON - Riley Skinner found a perfect way to open the bowl season and redeem himself for a flawed September performance against Navy.
Skinner went 11-for-11 and threw the go-ahead touchdown pass to Ben Wooster with 7:52 left, leading Wake Forest to a 29-19 comeback victory over the Midshipmen in the inaugural EagleBank Bowl on Saturday.
The previous school record for accuracy was a 12-for-14 effort by Mike McGlamry in 1975. Skinner passed for 166 yards and added a completion on a conversion attempt.
“I was really impressed with Riley today,” Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe said. “There were very few decisions he made that were wrong.”
It was a rematch of a Sept. 27 game at Wake Forest, when Navy took advantage of five turnovers by Skinner — four interceptions and a fumble — to pull off a 24-17 upset.
“I think any quarterback who plays a football game like I had last time we played them, if you’re competitive, you want to come out and play them again and get revenge,” said Skinner, voted the game’s Most Valuable Player. “You don’t want the last thing you think about when you think of Navy to be that game and the performance we had.”
Said Grobe: “He obviously didn’t have his best game the first time around. Today in the rematch, I don’t know if he could have played any better.”
The Midshipmen scored the first 17 points in the first meeting, and this time a 50-yard fumble return by Rashawn King helped Navy bolt to a 13-0 lead.
But Skinner didn’t flinch. He directed Wake Forest (8-5) to a touchdown in the final minute of the first half and opened the third quarter with a 73-yard drive that ended with a 5-yard run by Josh Adams for a 14-13 lead.
Navy (8-5) went back in front when Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada scored on a 2-yard run with 12:30 to go, but Skinner went 4-for-4 for 69 yards in an 80-yard drive that ended with his 8-yard pass to Wooster. Skinner then hit Devon Brown in the back of the end zone for the conversion that made it 22-19.
Rich Belton added a 35-yard touchdown run with 54 seconds left.
That enabled the winningest senior class in Wake Forest football history to enhance its legacy. The Demon Deacons’ 16 seniors finished with a 32-19 record, three bowl appearances and the 2006 Atlantic Coast Conference championship.
Kevin Harris rushed for 136 yards in his first start for Wake Forest since 2006, and Adams scored two touchdowns. Alphonso Smith set an ACC record with his 21st career interception, but his fumble while making a rare appearance on offense resulted in a Navy touchdown.
The first bowl game held at 48-year-old RFK Stadium drew a crowd of 28,777, many of them Navy fans who made the short drive from nearby Annapolis, Md.
The Midshipmen gave their backers an early thrill, but the momentum shifted when Smith intercepted a pass at the Wake Forest 2 with Navy up 13-0.
“We tried to jump on them early, just like last time,” coach Ken Niumatalolo said. “I thought we were doing good ... but Alphonso made a good play. It’s not a surprise; he’s done that against a lot of guys. He’s had a ton of picks.”
After Wake Forest began the game with a three and out, Shun White ran for 39 yards on Navy’s first play to set up a 40-yard field goal by Matt Harmon. It was the 12th time in 13 games the Midshipmen scored on their opening drive.
The Demon Deacons then picked up a pair of first downs before Smith took off on a reverse. It was the first carry of the year for the cornerback/punt returner, and it was a disaster: He was stripped of the ball by Wyatt Middleton, and King took the fumble into the end zone for a 10-0 lead.
King, a senior, missed the Army-Navy game because of the death of his father. It was the second defensive touchdown by the Midshipmen in a bowl game, the other coming in the 1961 Orange Bowl.
“Just being able to contribute was huge,” King said. “It was just exciting. I’ve never been in the end zone before.”
Navy’s next offensive series was a 16-play drive that ended with Harmon’s school-record 19th field goal of the season, a 47-yarder.
After Smith’s interception late in the half, King returned another fumble for a score. But the play was overturned after a replay determined the runner was down by contact, and the Demon Deacons resumed a 98-yard march that produced a 4-yard touchdown run by Adams — the first points against Navy in nearly 161 minutes.
Limited to 7 yards passing before the drive, Skinner went 3-for-3 for 58 yards. All three completions went to D.J. Boldin.
The Fighting Irish have a promising future based on coaching, current talent, recruiting, title path, and program power.
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