NASHVILLE — The Vanderbilt Commodores have come a very long way in three short seasons under coach James Franklin.
Not so far to be picky about their bowl destination.
Carey Spear kicked a 38-yard field goal with 39 seconds left, and Vanderbilt rallied to beat Wake Forest 23-21 Saturday as the Commodores finished with their second straight 8-4 season.
"We are not bowl snobs," Franklin said. "Wherever they tell us to go, we will be happy to go there."
The Commodores now have posted consecutive eight-win seasons for the first time since 1927 and 1928 and can only hope their sluggish performance didn't hurt their chances for a bowl game outside of Tennessee. They turned it over twice, and Spear kicked two of his three field goals in the fourth quarter to give them their ninth straight win in November.
Wake Forest (4-8) lost its fifth straight overall and third straight in this series. The Demon Deacons' last win against Vandy came Nov. 27, 2010 — about three weeks before Franklin was hired. Franklin said he has heard stories of that day when 1,500 fans were on hand for the end of a 2-10 season.
"It's night and day," Franklin said of the differences in the Vandy program. "Now don't get me wrong. We still got a long ways to go. We have goals, very, very high goals and expectations of where we can go and what we can be and we have to get back to work on that."
Vanderbilt struggled coming off a big win over in-state rival Tennessee. Jordan Matthews set another Southeastern Conference mark as the league's first receiver to top 100 catches.
Matthews' biggest came on the game-winning drive on fourth-and-11 as he hauled in a 25-yarder between two defenders hanging on him.
"I don't know how he made that catch," Franklin said. "We probably shouldn't have thrown it, we probably shouldn't have caught it, but we did."
Matthews said he knew Austyn Carta-Samuels would put the ball where only he could make the catch.
"I had a good idea it was going to come to me, so I just had to go make a play," Matthews said.
Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe thought his Demon Deacons had good coverage on Matthews.
"He's done that all year for them, it was a very nice catch," Grobe said.
Wake Forest had one last chance for the win, but defensive end Walker May sacked Tanner Price setting up the final play. Price threw deep to Tyree Harris, a pass broken up by Vanderbilt safety Kenny Ladler to seal the win.
Vanderbilt held the ball for more than 38 minutes and outgained Wake Forest 403-266 in total offense. The Commodores also led 17-14 at halftime.
Nikita Whitlock tipped a pass by Carta-Samuels, and Justin Jackson grabbed the ball and returned it 63 yards for a touchdown giving Wake Forest its first lead of the game at 21-17 with 6:10 left in the third quarter.
Vanderbilt finally put together its best drive in the fourth quarter, holding the ball more than 7 minutes. But the Commodores had to settle for a 25-yard field goal by Spear that pulled them within 21-20 with 6:58 to go. Chase Garnham intercepted a Tanner Price pass three plays later and returned it to the Wake Forest 33 with 6:00 left.
Mike Olson stripped Vanderbilt senior Wesley Tate of the ball, and safety Anthony Wooding Jr. recovered for Wake Forest. Vanderbilt lost only two fumbles through the first 10 games and now has lost four the two.
Vanderbilt needed Matthews' leaping grab to keep the game-winning drive alive. The Commodores sent out their preseason All-SEC kicker for the winning field goal four plays later.
"We expect that from Jordan Matthews and Austyn," Spear said. "They are playmakers. They are all-stars."
Matthews finished with 11 catches for 125 yards, giving him 107 receptions this season. He got the record on his second catch of the game, a 41-yarder, giving him 98 receptions and a single-season record in the league. He topped the 97 receptions by Keith Edwards had for Vanderbilt in 1983. He already was the SEC's leader in career receptions and yards receiving.
"There are a lot of great receivers who have come through this league," Matthews said of being considered the SEC's best receiver ever. "I wouldn't want to take all the credit because I've had a lot of guys who have helped me get this far. As long as I'm in the discussion, that would be cool."
The Commodores switched back and forth between Carta-Samuels and Robinette. Carta-Samuels capped the opening drive with a 7-yard TD pass to Fitz Lassing, and Patton Robinette also ran for an 8-yard TD himself.
The Demon Deacons tried to take advantage of Vanderbilt being without cornerback Andre Hal with Ladler suspended for the first half after being ejected from last week's win at Tennessee for targeting.
They took lots of shots downfield but had trouble connecting. Price ran for a 3-yard touchdown in the first quarter to tie the school record with his 65th career TD, a mark also held by Riley Skinner. Dominique Gibson also had a 9-yard TD run for Wake Forest.