LOUISVILLE, KY. — During a Saturday shootout in Louisville, under the unlikeliest of circumstances, it all came together for Boston College football—and it was beautiful.
After Anthony Brown left the game with a shoulder injury in the third quarter, backup quarterback Darius Wade led the Eagles on three-straight scoring drives to give them a 42-28 lead by the beginning of the fourth quarter. A.J. Dillon rushed for 272 yards and four touchdowns—BC’s first 200-yard rusher since Andre Williams in 2013—punctuating his career day with a violent stiff arm that sparked a 75-yard touchdown run on the first play of the fourth. And Colton Lichtenberg, one for his last six field goal attempts, drilled the game-winning 27-yard chip shot as time expired to deal Lamar Jackson and the Cardinals a 45-42 upset at Papa John’s Stadium.
“Our issue has been that we’ve had a hard time closing out because we get gassed,” head coach Steve Addazio said. “So for us to finish—to stand, and finish—I’m so proud of our kids for finding a way to get that done.”
It certainly didn’t start pretty for the Eagles. Jackson connected with Jaylen Smith for a 34-yard catch and run, setting up a perfectly-executed play action pass that found Kem Averett for the score. Louisville’s touchdown marked the first points BC had allowed on opponents’ opening drives this season.
It wasn’t long before Jackson and Co. were knocking on the door again. A 48-yard reception by Dez Fitzpatrick, a freshman who finished with seven catches for 127 yards, paved the way for a 20-yard touchdown run by Jackson to make it 14-0.
But unlike last season, in which the Heisman winner torched the Eagles for seven touchdowns, en route to a 52-7 blowout, BC responded before the game could slip out of reach. Toward the end of the first quarter, Brown finally delivered the first 40-plus yard play of the year, an easy toss to a wide-open Thadd Smith for a touchdown—the first of many busted coverages by the Cardinals.
The second quarter was fairly quiet until Reggie Bonnafon broke out a 64-yard rushing touchdown to push the lead to two possessions.
But the Eagles, still seeking their first conference win, wouldn’t go away. Michael Walker mishandled a punt, recovered the ball, and returned it 30 yards to set the offense up with favorable field position before the half. On a key third down, Brown escaped pressure and scampered for a career-long 30-yard run to move the chains. With just under a minute remaining, Dillon powered his way into the end zone for his first touchdown of the afternoon.
Starting with the ball in the second half, BC marched down the field needing a touchdown to tie the game. Brown, Dillon, and Jonathan Hilliman pieced together three first downs against an increasingly-flimsy Louisville defense. But then, Brown missed a wide-open Thadd Smith in the end zone and, two plays later, exited the game with an apparent shoulder injury after a hard tackle. To add insult to injury, Lichtenberg missed a 40-yard field goal attempt. The Eagles had nothing to show for their solid drive to start the third quarter except one less quarterback.
Luckily, Wade, who takes as many reps as Brown in practice, wasn’t fazed in his most meaningful minutes since 2015. The graduate signal caller completed his first six passes of the day, and with a hard-hitting runner in Dillon behind him, the duo fueled 21 unanswered points that changed the entire complexion of the game. The 45,000 fans at Papa John’s Stadium were stunned.
First, it was Dillon who fought his way to a three-yard score, capping off a 14-play, 72-yard drive that wore down the Cardinals’ front seven.
“At halftime, we said, ‘You know what? We’re gonna turn this into a power [run] game right now. We’re going to impose our will,’” Addazio said.
When Addazio wasn’t feeding carries to his true freshman workhorse, he was mixing in effective play-action passes to tight end Tommy Sweeney. He finished with four catches for 57 yards to lead BC’s receiving corps.
After the Eagles forced another three-and-out, they found themselves in Louisville territory in no time thanks to a ferocious 32-yard run by Dillon. After a 20-yard pass from Wade to Sweeney brought up first and goal, Hilliman pushed the pile forward for a six-yard touchdown run that gave BC its first lead, 28-21.
Following an interception by defensive end Wyatt Ray in coverage, Dillon took advantage of the short field and hit a gap for an 11-yard touchdown run.
Inevitably, Jackson answered to stop the bleeding. On his first drive of the final frame, he dropped a dime into the arms of Fitzpatrick for a 40-yard touchdown to pull within one possession.
In the past, this would have signaled the beginning of a fourth-quarter meltdown against a marquee opponent. Luckily, Dillon is the future.
The 6-foot, 245-pound back got hit about four yards past the line of scrimmage, and most players slowed up because they thought the play was as good as over. But Dillon literally threw his would-be tackler to the turf, accelerated down the sideline, and finished off a highlight-reel, 75-yard touchdown run that provided much-needed insurance for the Eagles.
“From my point of view, it was a four-yard run. I saw him get wrapped up. Then ‘mush,’” Wade said while offering his best impression of Dillon tossing his tackler into the ground. “I said, ‘Oh my god let’s go!’”
Desperate for a score on Louisville’s next drive, Jackson went into full me-against-the-world mode and took on BC’s front seven with his feet. He began with a 19-yard keeper that brought the ball into Eagles’ territory before going straight up the gut for 20 yards. A few plays later, he broke ankles in the secondary on his way to a nine-yard touchdown run with nine minutes remaining.
After the Cardinals finally forced a stop on defense, Jackson took the game into his own hands once again. With five minutes to play, he reignited the crowd with an electric 41-yard run that tied the game at 42-42.
What happened next was divine intervention. With under three minutes left, Louisville got the ball back with a chance to win the game. Jackson snuck out of the pocket, put his shoulder down, and knocked Taj-Amir Torres’ helmet off early in the series. That forced Hamp Cheevers into action, and on the next play, he forced a Jay Smith fumble around midfield that was recovered by Kamrin Moore, fumbled yet again, and finally recovered for good by Isaac Yiadom in Cardinals’ territory.
With two minutes remaining and the game on the line, BC’s strategy stayed the same: pound the rock. Dillon absorbed hit after hit, gaining yards after contact and dragging defenders down with him. By the time he had rumbled his way to Louisville’s 10-yard line, only three seconds were left on the clock. It was Lichtenberg time.
The junior from Savannah, Ga., converted the 27-yard chip shot, sending the Eagles home with an upset victory, their first ACC win of the year. Their 555 yards of total offense are the most since 2014, and the 45 points are the most in a conference road game under Addazio.
The Eagles can only hope that what came together so seamlessly at Louisville won’t fall apart against a much-improved Virginia squad next weekend. BC looked unrecognizable on Saturday. And it was beautiful.
Featured Image by Timothy D. Easley / AP Photo