Trailing 28-0 midway through the second quarter, the Blue Hose pulled off one of the best trick plays you will ever see in a football game.
Quarterback Brandon Miley fired a quick hitch pass to receiver Derrick Overholt that bounced off the field turf at Groves Stadium. Overholt caught the ball on one hop and then slammed his hands together in frustration at what the Wake Forest defense figured was an incomplete pass.
But as the Demon Deacons stopped playing, Overholt lofted a perfect strike to Michael Ruff, streaking down the middle of the field. Ruff didn't stop running until he had crossed the goal line on a 68-yard scoring play that served as Presbyterian's highlight of a long night.
"You don't expect to throw touchdown passes as a wide receiver," said Overholt, a sophomore who played quarterback at Polk County High School in North Carolina. "I was just worried about overthrowing (Ruff)."
The fact that Wake Forest walloped the Blue Hose 53-13 in the first game of the NCAA Division I football season was not the focus for Presbyterian.
Coming off an 0-11 season, Presbyterian coach Harold Nichols knows his second-year program is taking baby steps in its progression as an FCS team. He knew before the season that there would be some tough moments with a schedule that began with trips to Wake Forest, Clemson and the Citadel.
"I think (athletic director) Brian Reese is trying to get the Pittsburgh Steelers on the schedule for next year," Nichols said.
But he also knew there would be confidence-building plays like the one that resulted in Ruff's touchdown.
Presbyterian had practiced the play to perfection late in its workout at Groves Stadium on Wednesday evening — though Overholt said the results had been "sporadic" earlier in the week — and the Blue Hose worked their magic again under the bright lights on Thursday.
Nichols said Overholt "did a good job of acting" on the touchdown pass. "It was just like we practiced it. The key to a play like that is finding the right time in the game to call it."
Another sparkling moment occurred when senior left guard Grayson Sumner scooped up a Miley fumble and rumbled four yards to turn near disaster into a positive play.
Later on that opening drive of the second half, Miley connected with Anderico Bailey in the corner of the end zone for an 18-yard TD strike that cut Wake Forest's lead to 35-13.
Illustrating the ups and downs of one of the youngest teams in FCS, Presbyterian botched the extra point and Wake Forest cornerback Kenny Okoro dashed 85 yards with the blocked kick for the first defensive conversion in Deacon history.
A gutsy onside kick was recovered by Blue Hose receiver Jeremy Cole moments later, but an offsides penalty wiped out what could have been an even bigger momentum swinger for Presbyterian.
"Sometimes those plays work and sometimes they don't," Nichols said.
When Wake Forest surged ahead 21-0 early, due largely to a special teams error on the opening kickoff (resulting in a long touchdown return that was negated, due to a questionable blocking-in-the-back call, but still gave the Deacons great field position) and an interception that was returned 44 yards by the Deacon safety Alex Frye for a score, PC calmed down to outplay Wake Forest for large stretches of the second and third periods.
"Things were kind of crumbling on us, but the kids kind of settled in, did some good things and built some confidence," Nichols gleamed.
Wake Forest ultimately used its superior speed and depth to overwhelm the Blue Hose in the fourth period, but Nichols had plenty to be happy about.
"We missed some tackles tonight, but we were in the position to make some plays," Nichols explained. "Last year, I don't know if we would have even been in position to make those plays."
With 37 redshirt freshmen and sophomores playing before the crowd of 28,205 fans at Groves Stadium, Nichols had reason to gloat, even with the lopsided loss.
"In where we're at in the development of our program, you've got to find positives," Nichols said. "We're going to keep this ship sailing."
Nichols also pointed to the Demon Deacons' program for future inspiration.
"Coach (Jim) Grobe (of Wake Forest) has done a great job in the last 10 years, building a program," Nichols said. "That's what I aspire to do at PC."