WINSTON-SALEM, North Carolina — The first half was nearly perfect for Army. The triple option was churning out yards on the ground. The gambles on fourth down were working and the road crowd fell quiet.
Then the running holes closed up. Add in a loss of discipline that led to costly penalties and turnovers and it ended in a disappointing 24-21 loss to Wake Forest on Saturday that left first-year coach Jeff Monken fuming.
"What do you build on?" Monken said. "We didn't do anything really that well."
John Wolford threw for 238 yards and two touchdowns, including the go-ahead score midway through the fourth quarter in Wake Forest's eighth-straight win over the Black Knights.
"He's so efficient," Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson said of the true freshman quarterback. "He's just a cool-headed customer. He really is."
Wolford twice connected on third-down passes on the decisive drive before finding E.J. Scott over the middle for a 12-yard TD with 6:45 left to put Wake Forest (2-2) ahead to stay.
Isaiah Robinson recorded Wake Forest's first touchdown of the season and the Demon Deacons shut out Army in the second half.
"We just made too many mistakes to win," Army running back Larry Dixon said.
For a team hoping to capture six wins before the season-ending game against Navy to become bowl-eligible, this one hurt.
"We just need to get back to really working on the fundamentals," Dixon said.
Army, which last beat an ACC team on the road in 2010 at Duke, was penalized seven times for 57 yards.
"They didn't do anything differently, we did," Monken said of the second half. "We didn't block them, we got penalties. About every drive in the second half got stopped by a penalty, except maybe one three-and-out. The rest, we had a penalty that set us back. It's just foolish, stupid penalties."
Coming off a 35-0 loss at Stanford and being 0-5 at Wake Forest, Monken had the Black Knights gambling early.
Army converted a fourth down in its own territory before Dixon's 5-yard touchdown run — the 20th of his career — tied it at 7 late in the first quarter.
Army's ensuing onside kick went out of bounds, giving Wake Forest good field position and leading to Wolford's 6-yard TD pass to Cam Serigne.
And Joe Walker's halfback pass to Xavier Moss on third down led to a 4-yard TD and a 21-14 Army lead at halftime.
Led by Santiago, the Black Knights' shifty running quarterback, the Black Knights rolled up 232 yards on the ground in the first half, including Santiago's 1-yard TD plunge.
But Wake Forest showed more discipline in defending Army's triple-option in the second half. The Black Knights finished with 341 yards rushing and 18 yards passing.
"We weren't getting anybody on the perimeter," Clawson said of their first-half woes containing Santiago. "They were faking that dive and the quarterback was getting on the edge and we were playing the pitch."
With Wake Forest defending better, Army also wasted chances to build on its lead. Daniel Grochowski shanked a 40-yard field goal to end the half, and Walker fumbled a pitch inside the Wake Forest 20 in the third quarter.
Coming in with the second-worst rushing game in the nation at 22.7 yards per game, the Demon Deacons showed some brief promise on the ground, too.
Robinson, another true freshman, rumbled 15 yards for a first-quarter TD on a drive in which he picked up 40 yards rushing. Orville Reynolds later picked up 36 yards — the longest rush of the season for Wake Forest — to set up the winning touchdown.
Robinson rushed for a first down with just over 2 minutes left to end Army's chances.
Wolford completed 25 of 35 passes, and shook off Jeremy Timpf's second-quarter interception. He was sacked only once.
"We just have to make sure we finish games after this," Army defensive end Mike Ugenyi said. "We were prepared for everything we saw on the field. We made too many mental errors, missed assignments."