WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (AP) — Wake Forest certainly didn’t need Michael Campanaro to beat Presbyterian. Not with this kind of debut from redshirt freshman Jonathan Williams.
Williams had 143 yards receiving in the Demon Deacons’ season-opening 31-7 victory over Presbyterian on Thursday night.
“It wasn’t eyeing me — it was just eyeing the defense, seeing what they were going to do,” Williams said. “And the play-call was just there.”
Tanner Price was 14 of 25 for 219 yards with a 20-yard TD pass to Spencer Bishop, and the quarterback ran 3 yards for another score for the Demon Deacons.
With their Atlantic Coast Conference opener coming next Friday night at Boston College, they mostly kept things simple on offense while its defense forced six turnovers — three fumbles and three interceptions.
“I just think we didn’t play very well offensively,” Presbyterian coach Harold Nichols said. “They’re good defensively, but not that good.”
Brandon Chubb returned an interception 29 yards for a touchdown and redshirt freshman Josh Wilhite took his first career carry 21 yards for a late score.
Williams caught five passes and set a school record for receiving yardage by a freshman in his first game.
Tamyn Garrick was 9 of 15 for 36 yards with a 1-yard touchdown pass to Kris Hurley for the Blue Hose, who finished with 151 total yards, but 66 came on their first play — a dash by Demarcus Rouse that set up the TD pass.
Presbyterian only gained one more first down after that, and it didn’t come until the fourth quarter.
“I don’t think (the defense) could have played any better — other than the one long run to start the game,” Demon Deacons coach Jim Grobe said.
Price, Wake Forest’s fourth-year starter, has the green light on the ground for a change — he was a 1,000-yard rusher in high school. In this one, he rushed for a team-best 31 yards, mostly on option keepers.
“I’ve got a couple bruises already, and it’s a little bit different from past games,” Price said with a smile. “But it’s a good sore.”
He also showed he still has his deep touch.
And in Campanaro’s absence — he was in uniform but sat out with a hamstring injury — Williams emerged as the top target of the night.
“That’s what has to happen — when somebody goes down, somebody else has to step up,” Grobe said.
He caught three passes of 33 or more yards in the first half alone, with his 53-yard grab setting up Price’s short touchdown run that made it 17-7 with 3:18 left in the half.
That came two possessions after Price’s scoring pass to Bishop — a rare touchdown throw to a tight end — came 78 seconds into the second quarter, made it 10-7 and put Wake Forest ahead to stay.
Chubb effectively iced it less than 4 minutes into the second half when he pulled a Garrick pass out of the air and raced into the end zone to put the Demon Deacons up 24-7.
Presbyterian, which entered 0-5 against FBS teams and had never held one to fewer than 53 points, threw a scare into the late-arriving crowd when Rouse took off on the Blue Hose’s first play and raced down the left sideline to the Wake Forest 4.
Garrick made it 7-0 when he hit Hurley three plays later for Presbyterian’s first offensive touchdown against an FBS opponent since 2010.
“I thought early on that we’d be able to run the football a bit better,” Nichols said. “But offensively, we did such a poor job of taking care of the ball. You know, you turn the ball over that many times, and as good as the defense was playing early, we kept putting them in a bad position.”
Chad Hedlund kicked a 31-yard field goal with 2:16 left in the first quarter to pull Wake Forest to 7-3.
Play was held up for nine minutes between the first and second quarters after the banks of lights lost power.