Puffs of steam collect into a cloud above the screaming huddle of Wake Forest University players. Their warm breath does little to combat Newton Campus Soccer Field’s frigid playing conditions, but their combined effort on the pitch wears down a tough Boston College back line with a five-minute passing attack that culminates in a seismic finish from Jack Harrison. Eagle defenders look on in astonishment, eyeing an excuse or penalty to explain their first half deficit. They can only watch as their gulps of air vanish amid the Demon Deacons’ celebration, along with any hopes of extending their now-forgotten four-game unbeaten streak.
BC (6-3-1, 2-2 ACC) suffered a 5-0 loss on Friday night to a No. 6 Wake Forest squad that played a near-perfect game despite dismal weather conditions under the lights. The defeat will undoubtedly hurt the Eagles’ chances of garnering a spot in next week’s NSCAA Coaches rankings, but more importantly, it serves as a grim reminder of the unforgiving ACC schedule that lies ahead of them.
“We got smashed,” BC head coach Ed Kelly said. “[Wake Forest] could be a national championship team. Some of their movement was exquisite, and we’re having trouble passing to someone’s feet at times.”
Harrison, the 2015 Men’s Soccer National Gatorade Player of the Year, led the way for Wake Forest (8-1-1, 3-0-1 ACC), opening up the scoring with a strike in the 33rd minute that snuck underneath BC goalkeeper Cedric Saladin. A British-born freshman who starred at Massachusetts’ Berkshire School as a midfielder, Harrison capped off his big night with some flare, fielding a high-bouncing cross and keeping his first-touch laser inches below the top crossbar to give Wake Forest a 4-0 lead.
Kelly pursued Harrison, a former teammate of Eagle forward Zeiko Lewis, as a top recruit last year before losing out to Wake Forest.
“He was with Manchester United when he was a kid for like five years,” Kelly said. “He should go home now. He’s wasting his time in college—not for his education, I mean soccer-wise.”
Wake orchestrated its systematic demolition of the Eagles’ defense with controlled passing on the ground that started in the defensive third and steadily worked its way up the field. The Demon Deacons’ calculated assault was patient, yet lethal.
In the 40th minute, Wake Forest’s Tane Gent fired a shot from close range to give the Deacons a 2-0 lead before halftime. At the break, the Demon Deacons held advantages in nearly every offensive category, but BC was still knocking on the door. The second half saw Wake Forest promptly lock that door and shoo any remaining Eagles away like obnoxious Comcast telemarketers.
Early in the second period, Wake Forest defender Brad Dunwall opted for the short corner, tapping a quick ball on the ground to forward Jon Bakero instead of sending a cross directly into the box. The result? Bakero utilized his extra space and improved angle, taking a few touches before sending a ball directly to the head of defender Kevin Politz, who was eagerly waiting to deliver the knockout punch.
It seemed as if each BC scoring opportunity was thwarted before it could even begin to develop, as the unit only mustered five shots against an unassuming but effective Wake defense. Harrison equaled the Eagles’ total, launching five shots on his own for Wake Forest.
By the end of the beating, the Deacons had scored three second-half goals on four shot attempts, rubbing salt in the already painful wound by scoring the final goal on a penalty kick with under 10 seconds left.
Although, in the words of Kelly, BC got “killed,” “smashed,” and “beat by a better team,” the Eagles will have a chance to pick up the pieces on Tuesday when they travel to Providence for a non-conference matchup against Brown. Next Friday, they find themselves back against the ropes once again versus the defending National Champions, No. 16 Virginia. Such are the struggles of an ACC schedule.
And while the blowout may yield some positives for the inexperienced roster, the loss should serve as a blunt wake-up call for Kelly’s team: the Eagles aren’t the only ACC team with explosive, goal-scoring freshmen. Proceed with caution.
Photo Courtesy of John Quackenbos / BC Athletics