WEST POINT, N.Y. -- After a win over a lower-echelon team to open the season and two straight losses, Wake Forest was nearing the abyss with conference play and powerhouse Clemson looming on the schedule.
That abyss is gone for the time being.
Josh Harris rushed for two second-half touchdowns as the Demon Deacons overcame a host of errors and rallied past Army 25-11 on Saturday at Michie Stadium.
"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 three costly errors and nine penalties to hold off the Black Knights (1-3).
"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, while their vaunted triple option was hampered by the loss of top backs Raymond Maples and Larry Dixon, who suffered lower body injuries against Stanford and did not play.
"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."
Terry Baggett led Army with a career-high 125 yards rushing on 16 carries, his second straight solid performance in relief of the injured stars, and quarterback Angel Santiago added 60 yards rushing. Daniel Grochowski kicked a career-high three field goals for Army.
Michael Campanaro, who tied an Atlantic Coast Conference 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.
As much as anything, Army's four false starts among its eight penalties were killers for a team whose offense relies on grinding it out in small doses. Against a defense that was allowing 17.3 points and surrendering just 296.3 yards a game, Army's triple option finished with 271 yards rushing on 55 attempts. The Black Knights were averaging 314 yards rushing a game and 5.6 yards per carry.
"Execution killed a lot of our momentum. We didn't do that last week," Baggett said. "We don't need big plays. Our offense isn't built on big plays."
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.
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."
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