Football, Top Story

BC’s Late-Game Comeback Not Enough to Top No. 23 Wolfpack

Two and a half hours before the start of Saturday afternoon’s game between Boston College football and No. 23 North Carolina State, Yahoo Sports!’s Pete Thamel reported that A.J. Dillon—who injured his left ankle the weekend prior against Temple—had not made the trip to Raleigh, N.C. and was officially out for the Atlantic Division showdown. Many concluded that, without Dillon, the third-leading rusher in the country, the Eagles’ offense was helpless.

Judging by the opening 42 minutes of play, that assumption was spot on. Up until its final drive of the third quarter, BC had recorded just 109 total yards and three points—putrid numbers for any team, let alone one with the 19th-highest scoring offense in the FBS. Not only that, but the Eagles were 0-of-9 on third/fourth down and had only moved the chains on four separate occasions. Jim Reid’s defense did everything it could to put the Eagles in position to score, forcing three turnovers. But all BC had to show for it was a 33-yard Colton Lichtenberg field goal.

All day, the Eagles—utterly dominated in the time of possession battle—had been predictable on offense. It only took a few creative play designs to get Anthony Brown and Co. going. Using the zone read, offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler set the stage for a 21-yard Ben Glines touchdown, a play that jumpstarted a late-game Eagles scoring spurt. BC tacked on 13 more unanswered points in the final frame, even blocking a punt for six, but a failed onside kick and a couple N.C. State first downs spoiled the comeback. The Wolfpack milked the clock, securing a 28-23 victory, improving to 5-0 for the first time since 2002.

Without its three first-half takeaways, BC (4-2, 1-1 Atlantic Coast) probably wouldn’t have had a chance to make things interesting in the fourth quarter. Quite simply, the Eagles’ offense was dysfunctional for much of the opening three frames, and it all started on the game’s first drive.

Glines, who eclipsed the 100-yard mark the previous week after replacing the injured Dillon, picked up right where he left off, but Brown was largely out of sync with his receivers. Once infiltrating N.C. State (5-0, 2-0) territory, the drive sputtered out of control. An incomplete pass and sack created a fourth and long situation for the Eagles. Head coach Steve Addazio decided to go for it, except BC didn’t really roll the dice: a five-yard screen pass to Travis Levy was far short of the first down marker and set the precedent for several Eagles drives. When presented with a third/fourth and long, Loeffler typically played it conservative.

The Wolfpack, on the other hand, took shot after shot, trusting quarterback Ryan Finley to carry N.C. State downfield, and boy did he deliver. When all was said and done, the Wolfpack—which entered the matchup with the third-highest third-down conversion rate in the country—finished 11-of-16 on third/fourth down. With a variety of talented receiving options, Finley had the privilege of picking his poison, marching down field with ease. The graduate student completed four of his first five pass attempts, promptly guiding N.C. State into the red zone. But head coach Dave Doeren turned to the ground to cap off the drive: Reggie Gallaspy II squeezed his way into the end zone for a four-yard score, his sixth touchdown of the year.

On the ensuing Eagles drive, BC picked up one first down before being forced to punt. Grant Carlson booted the ball with quite a bit of hang time, enabling Mehdi El Attrach to level Thayer Thomas as soon as the Wolfpack wide receiver fielded the punt. The immediate contact jarred the ball loose, and the junior defensive back hopped on it for a field-flipping recovery.

Brown and the offense, however, did nothing with it. In fact, the redshirt sophomore almost gave the ball right back when trying to force a throw to Tommy Sweeney in the end zone. After three ineffective plays, BC settled for its second field goal of the season.

Like clockwork, Finley spread the ball around the field, showcasing every kind of trick in his arsenal. Touch pass, back shoulder throw, you name it—everything was working for the NFL prospect, even the read option. But, like all college football players, Finley is human. Two youthful mistakes—throwing off his back foot while under duress and missing a lurking linebacker in coverage—cost him a pair of interceptions. Luckily for N.C. State, though, the back-to-back turnovers didn’t change the complexion of the game, not one bit.

Zach Allen and Kevin Bletzer’s interceptions were practically rendered obsolete by the fact that BC logged a combined 10 yards on the drives directly after Finley was picked off. If the Eagles weren’t forcing a turnover, they weren’t stopping the Wolfpack—it was as simple as that. N.C. State didn’t end up punting until its second drive of the fourth quarter. Naturally, Finley rattled off two touchdown drives prior to intermission.

First, Gallaspy II put the team on his back, running for 38 yards on six carries, the last of which landed him in the end zone for his second touchdown of the day. Then, N.C. State returned to the air to wrap up its first-half scoring output. Finley went back and forth between targeting Jakobi Meyer and Kelvin Harmon—both of whom tallied nine or more catches, 99-plus yards, and a touchdown. In the red zone, Reid brough the house, but the veteran gunslinger got the ball out with no problem, finding Meyers for six to put the Wolfpack up, 21-3.

To make matters worse for BC, N.C. State started the second half with the ball. It would have reached the end zone again had it not been for Wyatt Ray and Conor Strachan that smothered Ricky Person Jr. for a loss of four yards. The tag-team defensive play saved the Eagles points—not just four, but seven. Christopher Dunn’s chip-shot field goal was blocked by Kevin Bletzer, gifting BC with another chance to cut its deficit.

Still, the damage was done. The drive had lasted over nine minutes, and other Eagles three-and-out ultimately gave way to a 34-yard Finley touchdown pass. With less than three minutes left in the third quarter, BC was trailing by 25 points—it was only then that the Eagles’ offense came alive. Near midfield, Brown faked a handoff on the zone read, and sprinted down the right side of the field for a gain of 28 yards. The very next play, BC was in the same formation. Yet, instead of taking off on his own, Brown handed the ball to Glines, who spotted the open hole and scampered for the Eagles’ first touchdown of the game.

Rather than responding, N.C. State turned the ball over for the fourth and final time. Ricky Person Jr. coughed up the rock, and Will Harris recovered. BC didn’t waste a second to get back on the board. Michael Walker used a double move to beat his man downfield, and Brown hit him in stride for a 46-yard pass and catch. A few plays later, the Eagles finally converted—not on third down, but on fourth down. After taking a three-step drop, Brown passed the ball to Glines out on the flat. The redshirt junior sprinted toward the paint and galloped past the pylon for his second scoring play of the day.

He very well could have had a third on the ensuing drive. But on 1st-and-Goal, Glines charged up the middle, only to be greeted by a scrum of Eagles linemen and Wolfpack defenders. Even though the running back was standing straight up, no forward progress was called, and Germaine Pratt stripped the ball out of his hands for a fumble recovery. The lack of whistle was controversial to say the least and had Addazio barking down the referees backs for five or so minutes. Fortunately for BC, it got six anyway—just in a bit more unorthodox way than expected.

With three and a half minutes remaining, Mike Palmer blocked N.C. State’s second and final punt of the afternoon. The ball bounced perfectly into the end zone, allowing Travis Levy to field the deflection for a touchdown.

Although the Eagles only trailed by five, 28-23, they only had one timeout at their disposal. Following Lichtenberg’s failed onside kick, two Wolfpack first downs put an end to what was a wild affair.

Considering that Miami, Virginia Tech, and Clemson, as well as pesky Syracuse team, are still on the schedule, Saturday’s game was one that many BC fans pegged as a must-win. The final 18 minutes of regulation served as evidence that it truly was winnable, even without Dillon. Failed conversions, poor tackles, and dropped passes—all of which haunted BC for the majority of the afternoon—encapsulated that, quite simply, Saturday was a missed opportunity.

Featured Image by Gerry Broome / AP Photo

Photos by Gerry Broome / AP Photo

October 6, 2018

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