Football, Top Story

Football Clinches Bowl Eligibility With Win Over UConn

BOSTON — With an all-around improved roster, headlined by running back A.J. Dillon, Boston College football was slotted to blow out Connecticut by three scores on Saturday at Fenway Park, even without starting quarterback Anthony Brown. At least it was supposed to.

Filling in for a concussed Bryant Shirreffs, UConn quarterback David Pindell caught BC’s secondary sleeping on the game-opening drive. The dual-threat signal caller hit a wide-open Arkeel Newsome down the seam for a 50-yard catch and run. Moments later, Pindell scrambled for an eight-yard gain. Then, Kevin Mensah picked up the first down. The Huskies were on the move. And if it wasn’t for a holding call, they may have had a touchdown coming. Instead, Michael Tarbutt settled for a 50-yard field goal.

UConn failed to tack on any more points in the quarter, but clearly outplayed the Eagles, totaling 172 yards of offense. Although BC was only trailing by three, it felt as if head coach Steve Addazio’s group was down by a lot more. But in the second quarter, the Eagles finally woke up. Quarterback Darius Wade started to find a rhythm, and Dillon cluttered the stat sheet. BC racked up five touchdowns in the next two frames, and closed out a bowl-clinching, 39-16 victory.

At first, BC (6-5, 3-4 Atlantic Coast) had no answer for Pindell. Like it has all season, the zone read got the best of the Eagles’ defensive line. And so did the big play. On two of the Huskies’ (3-8, 2-5 American) first three drives, they recorded 45-plus-yard plays—both of which flipped the field. But as soon as UConn reached BC territory, its offense hit a brick wall.

Luckily for the Huskies, Tarbutt bailed them out on their first possession, drilling a field goal, just about 15 yards past midfield. But he wasn’t as fortunate the next time his number was called. Minutes after the Huskies blocked a 43-yard Colton Lichtenberg field goal, they got a taste of their own medicine. BC defensive end Wyatt Ray got a piece of Tarbutt’s 30-yard chip shot, and the Eagles took over—for all of a minute of 22 seconds. A pair of Dillon runs and a Wade incompletion, and Mike Knoll was back out to punt. Just like the week before, BC’s offense looked helpless without Brown behind center.

That was, until the 12-minute mark in the second quarter. Wade orchestrated a six-minute, 70-yard touchdown drive, igniting the entire Eagles’ offense. Prior to the series, BC was 0-of-4 on third down. By the end of the drive, the Eagles’ conversion rate was at an even 50 percent. Avoiding a three-and-out, Wade stepped up in the pocket and scrambled for a first down. A couple plays later, the graduate student dialed up a 38-yard pass down the middle of the field to his favorite target, Tommy Sweeney. Now in the redzone, Dillon gobbled up eight yards on a 3rd-and-8 to, once again, move the chains. But the true freshman couldn’t punch it in. It was up to Wade to finish off the series—one that accounted for close to 80 percent of his passing yards on the night. On 3rd-and-Goal, Wade rolled left and zipped a pass to tight end Chris Garrison for a touchdown.

After trading a few punts, BC found its way back into the end zone. Only this time, it didn’t take four third-down conversions. In fact, it only required one play. Wade snapped the ball and tossed it to Dillon out of the backfield. The true freshman paved his way through the tackles, per usual, but eventually veered toward the left sideline. A few Huskies caught up with him near the 15-yard line, at which point Dillon seamlessly pushed defensive back Tyler Coyle out of the way and carried three other UConn defenders into the end zone to cap off the 53-yard run.

In just one quarter, the Eagles already made up the ground they had lost in the opening period. And they were just getting started.

Michael Walker returned the second-half kickoff 37 yards to BC’s 40-yard line, gifting his offense perfect field position. Gaining four or more yards at a time, Wade fed Dillon four-consecutive carries. Then his mentor got a turn. Jonathan Hilliman, whose role has increasingly diminished since Dillon burst onto the national stage, received the handoff, broke a few arm tackles, and left a handful of UConn defenders in the dust. The 38-yard score marked his first rushing touchdown in more than a month.   

The Huskies desperately needed to put up points on their next possession to stop the bleeding. They did, just for the wrong team. After completing two passes of 10 or more yards and marching his team into the Eagles’ half, Pindell lofted a play-action pass right into the hands of BC cornerback Taj-Amir Torres, who ran the interception back for six. Even though Lichtenberg shanked the extra point—the first of his three missed point after attempts—the Eagles were still up four scores, leading, 27-3.   

UConn eventually forced a turnover of its own. Cole Ormsby sacked Wade, and in doing so, jarred the ball loose. The Huskies recovered, and inched the ball back into BC territory. But just when it seemed like Pindell had moved on from his last pick, he threw another one—his third of the night. Lukas Denis was the beneficiary, nabbing his sixth interception of the season. The safety danced around UConn offensive players and ended up returning the pick 56 yards, all the way to the Huskies’ 42-yard line. Soon after, Dillon converted the turnover into points, ripping off a 20-yard touchdown run.

The scoring play put Dillon over 200 yards on the night, and was enough to earn the true freshman workhorse a full quarter’s worth of rest. Hilliman took over from there, and was practically just as effective. It wasn’t long before the redshirt junior carried the ball six-straight times, the last of which culminated in a three-yard touchdown scamper.

Up 39-3, Addazio decided to remove Wade from the game. In came true freshman E.J. Perry, who before this game was redshirted. Perry didn’t do much besides hand the ball off to Hilliman and Travis Levy, but Addazio maintained that he wanted the rookie to get some reps this season, even if that meant burning his redshirt status.

UConn made the score look a little less lopsided in the final minutes, as the Huskies rattled off back-to-back big scoring plays: a 70-yard Mensah run and a 43-yard Hergy Mayala reception. But the game was far gone.

For as much scrutiny as Addazio has faced both this season, as well as in years past, he has accomplished what others before him haven’t been able to do.

“There are a lot of [coaches] out there that came into programs that were pretty deflated and, in five years, have been to one bowl, maybe two,” Addazio said. “We’re going to four.”

The specifics have yet to be determined. But regardless if BC wins or loses at Syracuse next Saturday, one thing won’t change. Addazio is the first in program history to lead the Eagles to four bowls in a coach’s first five seasons with the team.

Featured Image by Julia Hopkins / Heights Editor

November 18, 2017