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The Agony Of The Feet: BC Edged By Penn State In Pinstripe Bowl

Week after week, it’s the same old story.

One measly point, the “gimme,” the 18-yard chip shot from the two-yard line. A swivel of the hips, a kick—one where the leg doesn’t even complete a full follow-through—and the ball goes through the uprights. It’s all too easy, especially for the young men who practiced the maneuver since their pee-wee days.

No one sweats this simple point after touchdown. Except the Boston College football team. And after missing the most in the country—eight, accounting for Mike Knoll’s shanked kick to the far right—it seems only fitting the extra point dooms the Eagles on this day.

“We’ve got some issues we’ve got to get fixed in the kicking game,” head coach Steve Addazio said after the game. “That’s why I went on fourth down a bunch during that game.”

Quarterback Tyler Murphy emphasized after the game to be warned before you center all of your anger on the freshman from Ohio.

“That one PAT didn’t lose us the game. I started off slow in the beginning of the game, we had a lot of opportunities,” Murphy said. “It just sucks that it had to finish like that. Everyone’s going to look at Mike like it’s his fault, but it’s a team game.”

Addazio took key risks in this thrilling postseason matchup between the Eagles (7-6, 4-4 ACC) and the Penn State Nittany Lions (7-6, 2-6 Big 10) in the bright lights of New York City, many of which paid huge dividends. Look at BC’s opening drive of the third quarter. The Eagles stood deep in the Penn State zone—a place they had not seen after an uneventful first half, punctuated only by freshman running back Jon Hilliman’s 44-yard dash to the end zone. Facing a fourth-and-three at their opponents’ 26-yard line, the Eagles had a chance for a long field goal.

Hilliman 2 Pinstripe

Given BC’s ineptitude in the kicking game all throughout the season, that was a chance Addazio did not want to take. His gamble to not only go for it, but to pass the ball, turned out to be the right one. Murphy threw an eight-yard strike to Shakim Phillips, connecting with the grad student a couple of plays later for a 19-yard touchdown and a 14-7 lead.

The Eagles seemed to take full control of the game, when on the ensuing drive, PSU quarterback Christian Hackenberg fumbled a snap for the second time in the game in BC’s territory. Murphy made the Nittany Lions pay, deking PSU cornerback Jordan Lucas in vintage fashion, for a beautiful 40-yard touchdown run that put the Eagles up, 21-7.

Murphy 2 Pinstripe

At that point, the momentum shifted.

Following the Murphy touchdown, the Nittany Lions moved to a fast-paced, no-huddle offense centered on the pass. This ran consistent with Penn State’s attack throughout the season—PSU ranked 120th in the nation with 103.6 yards per game on the ground. And while Hackenberg’s passing had not blown opponents away this season—PSU’s passing attack ranked in the middle of the pack, sitting at 73rd with 221.9 yards per game—it still remained the Nittany Lions’ most effective offensive weapon.

Hackenberg picked apart BC’s secondary with mid-range passes throughout the day, but often missed when letting it air out downfield. The secondary got burned again, however, when a facemask penalty—one of eight flags on the day for the Eagles for a combined 70 yards, the most on both accounts for BC this season—added another 15 yards to a 32-yard reception by Geno Lewis, putting PSU deep in BC territory. The Nittany Lions scored three plays later on a strike by Hackenberg to Geno Lewis that was nearly intercepted, making the score 21-14 in favor of the Eagles.

It was then time for the Eagles’ run defense to fail them. After a holding penalty prevented BC from turning over the field early in the fourth quarter, giving Penn State excellent field position, the Nittany Lions turned to running back Akeel Lynch for a lift. The Eagles held Lynch for much of the game, giving up 75 yards on 17 carries—one of those carries, however, was a 35-yard dash that set up the Nittany Lions at the goal line.

Lynch Pinstripe

Penn State committed its own huge penalty—an unsportsmanlike conduct call pushed the Nittany Lions back to their own 16-yard line. Hackenberg, however, threw a strike to wideout DaeSean Hamilton that a diving Ty-Meer Brown just missed breaking up, allowing PSU to tie the game at 21 with 6:48 remaining.

“[The secondary] gave away a lot of plays, we had a lot of plays we could’ve made, we had picks that we gave away, we didn’t make enough plays there as a whole,” Addazio said afterwards.

The Eagles responded afterwards, marching downfield with an effective overall game. Phillips dropped a huge downfield strike from Murphy, losing control of the ball as he went to the ground. This was the second key passing miscue of the game—in the first quarter, Murphy scrambled to loft a deep pass to Phillips, only to have it negated by an ineligible man downfield.

Phillips rebounded immediately, converting on a third-and-seven with a 13-yard snag. Murphy and Hilliman marched downfield, bringing the ball to Penn State’s 3-yard line. With about two minutes remaining, Addazio chose not to take a risk, calling for Knoll to kick a 20-yard field goal to put BC up, 24-21

Here, the Eagles’ secondary fell apart. Beginning at PSU’s 24-yard line, Hackenberg chopped up BC’s backs with five consecutive passes for positive yardage, plus his own six-yard run. Sam Ficken, Penn State’s kicker, then launched a 45-yard field goal to knot up the matchup and send it to overtime.

In overtime, Murphy did impress with a 21-yard touchdown strike to Dave Dudeck, only to be followed by that fateful missed extra point. Needing a touchdown and PAT to win, Hackenberg just proved a little better, completing a 17-yard pass to Jesse James who plowed over two Eagles while fighting for the first down, before finding Kyle Carter in the front of the end zone.

Unlike Knoll, Ficken connected, sealing the victory for the Nittany Lions.

Wolford Pinstripe

Give a lot of credit to BC’s running game in today’s game. Like they have all year, the Eagles showed no doubt about their game plan. Entering today’s game, Penn State gave up the fewest rushing yards per game in the nation—84.6—and two Eagles, Hilliman (148) and Murphy (105), surpassed that total. Defensive lineman Truman Gutapfel believes the run game—especially Hilliman—will be BC’s biggest strength in the coming years.

“[Hilliman’s] a beast, the way he walks around in the locker room. He’s confident in his ability, and we’re all real confident in him,” Gutapfel said. “I’d say that’s a positive looking towards the future. We’ve got a stable of running backs.”

But, as Addazio mentioned later, the frustration clear on his face, this represented an ongoing theme for an Eagles team that lost so many winnable games. Clemson—where a missed extra point, also by Knoll, changed BC’s offensive game plan on its last drive—Colorado State—a complete secondary collapse led to a touchdown with no time remaining—and even playoff-bound Florida State—one missed field goal by Alex Howell made all the difference—all were within the Eagles’ grasp.

“I think in that locker room right now, no one is really interested in ‘zip-a-dee-doo-dah, oh gee we played in overtime.’ We made a lot of strides. We’re heading in a great direction. But we just lost a game we didn’t need to lose, but we did,” Addazio said.

BC, overall, vastly outperformed its poor expectations. Many picked the Eagles to finish towards the bottom of a rejuvenated ACC, led by defending champion FSU and strengthened by the addition of a powerful Louisville team. Murphy even noted how jealous he was that he could not come back and play with a team he expects to compete for a playoff spot in the next couple of years.

But, as they have all year, the Eagles simply could not finish—they could not make the plays they needed to in order to shut down the Nittany Lions.

History, however, will remember only one.

Featured Image by Arthur Bailin / Heights Editor

December 28, 2014