NASHVILLE, Tenn.—Fans and media spent much of this week discussing whether six wins could get Vanderbilt to its first bowl since 1982.
But the Commodores' play on the field Saturday afternoon at Vanderbilt Stadium quickly rendered that discussion moot. Vanderbilt rallied late behind the arm of backup quarterback Richard Kovalcheck, but couldn't overcome a 28-point fourth-quarter deficit.
Until that late rally, Vanderbilt (5-7) was dreadful in most facets of Saturday afternoon's 31-17 loss to Wake Forest, putting the finishing touches on the school's 26th-consecutive losing season. The Commodores committed five turnovers, missed numerous tackles, gave up an 81-yard kickoff return to begin the second half and registered just 16 yards rushing on 28 attempts.
Kovalcheck threw for 269 second-half yards, and hit Earl Bennett and Bryant Anderson with fourth-quarter touchdown passes. But the 'Dores fate had mostly been sealed in the third quarter after a pair of turnovers and a drive that stalled at the Wake 2 without points.
The Commodores endured a miserable first half of football, but trailed only 14-3 at the break. VU gained 77 yards and had four first downs in the half, and scored only when Bryant Hahnfeldt hit a 24-yard field goal in the first quarter that capped a 14-play, 39-yard drive, giving VU a 3-0 lead.
Vandy committed two turnovers in the half, one on Mackenzi Adams' interception on the game's first play, and another Adams fumble at the VU 13. The latter set up a Josh Adams 14-yard scoring run to give Wake a 7-3 lead two plays later.
The Deacons added another in the second quarter on Riley Skinner's 1-yard scoring strike to Ben Wooster on a third-and-goal play.
Any chance VU had to compete was wiped out in the opening minute of the second half. Kevin Marion returned the second-half kickoff to the VU 12, and two plays later, Skinner found fullback De'Angelo Bryant with an 8-yard scoring pass.
On the Commodores' first offensive play afterwards, Cassen Jackson-Garrison fumbled an option pitch from Adams, and Wake recovered on the VU 29. Three plays later, Wake's Adams ran untouched down the left sideline for a 12-yard score, and Sam Swank's extra point extended the lead to 28-3.
Swank added another field goal later in the quarter for a 28-point Wake lead as the game went to the fourth quarter, before Kovalcheck's two scoring touchdowns cut the final margin in half.
The defeat marked the end of a once-promising season, as well as the careers of a number of Commodore standouts, including All-Southeastern Conference players Jonathan Goff and Chris Williams, and perhaps that of Bennett as well. The Commodores started the season 5-3 but lost their last four.
Bennett caught six passes for 65 yards on Saturday, and became the first SEC receiver ever with 75 catches in three seasons. Earlier in the week, the league's all-time leading receiver announced he is considering foregoing his senior season to enter April's NFL Draft.