At the beginning of the 2018 campaign, Boston College football was riddled with special teams follies. Over the course of the first five weeks of the season, the Eagles had three blocked punts returned for touchdowns, three botched snaps while in punt formation, four missed extra points, a muffed punt, and a fumble on a kickoff return that gifted the opposition with a scoop and score touchdown.
To a certain degree, BC worked out those kinks—and, of late, the big play has overshadowed all other pitfalls. In fact, heading into Saturday’s game against Syracuse, the Eagles had conceded six or more pass plays of 15-plus yards in each of their past three contests, most notably last week’s 74-yard touchdown that preserved Florida State’s 36-year bowl streak and dashed the Eagles’ hopes of a 10-win season. But on Senior Day, all of the aforementioned weaknesses came together, and it was far from beautiful.
In a matter of two minutes and 28 seconds, the Orange turned a seven-point deficit into a one-score first-quarter lead. Eric Dungey exploited BC’s blown coverage with a 75-yard touchdown pass to a wide-open Sean Riley, who patiently waited to field the ball and promptly sprinted to the end zone as soon as he hauled in the reception. Michael Walker coughed up the ensuing kickoff—his fourth return fumble of the season—and Syracuse made him pay. Once at the goal line, Dungey faked a handoff, broke a pair of leg tackles, and skipped past the pylon for six. From that point forward, BC never really recovered: Dungey tacked on four more touchdowns, BC committed three additional turnovers, and Syracuse coasted to a 42-21 victory, locking up its first nine-plus win season since 2001.
With Steve Addazio as head coach, some things just don’t change, as evidenced by Colton Lichtenberg’s 33-yard missed field goal on the Eagles’ (7-5, 4-4 Atlantic Coast) opening drive. The senior placekicker, who hooked a 29-yarder at FSU and is 20-of-36 in his career, pulled the chip-shot field goal wide left, leaving BC empty-handed on its first possession of the day.
Luckily for the Eagles, No. 19 Syracuse (9-3, 6-2) didn’t get off on the right foot either. After converting a 4th-and-1 from their own 29-yard line, the Orange infiltrated BC territory, only to miss a 44-yard field goal—somewhat of a rarity, considering that Andre Szmyt was 28-of-31 on the year and had made a trio of 50-plus yard field goals earlier this fall. As a result, the Eagles got another chance to strike first. This time, they lived up to the task.
A.J. Dillon jumpstarted the drive with a 17-yard run. The chunk play came at a cost, though. Dillon—who eventually left the game at halftime, marking the fourth-consecutive contest that he’s exited early—limped to the sideline after the rushing attempt, trying to walk off his nagging ankle injury. He’d return for the time being, but it was Anthony Brown who propelled the Eagles to a 7-0 lead. Following a pair of 10-plus yard completions, the redshirt sophomore faked a handoff on the goal line, rolled right—drawing the defense’s attention in the process—and threw left to Jake Burt for the tight end’s first career touchdown reception.
Unfortunately for BC, its lead was short-lived. The very next play from scrimmage, Dungey hooked up with Riley for Syracuse’s coverage-busting 75-yard score. Brandon Sebastian and Will Harris were supposed to peel off toward the back end, but instead remained in the upper level, leaving the speedy Orange wide receiver all alone.
The game was tied, but the momentum had clearly shifted. Thanks to Walker’s fumble, a 34-yard pass completion to Jamal Custis, and Dungey’s zone read touchdown near the goal line, the Orange quickly jumped on top, 14-7. Following a BC three-and-out, head coach Dino Babers’ team kept its foot on the gas, logging its third-straight touchdown on the heels of Dontae Strickland. The senior running back surged through the trenches, tracking his lead blockers for gains of 32 and 19, vaulting Syracuse into the red zone. Strickland had the hot hand, but Dungey capped the scoring drive, once again, scampering into the paint for a touchdown.
In the first half alone, Dungey racked up 312 yards of total offense and four touchdowns. BC’s defense—a unit that lost Wyatt Ray to injury in the opening 30 minutes—gave up 380 yards during that span, more than it allowed to Miami or Louisville in four quarters of play.
“I thought [Dungey] was incredible today,” Addazio told reporters. “He’s a heck of a football player, and he stepped up and had just a phenomenal day making plays when there weren’t any plays to be made. More credit and power to him. He’s a heck of a football player.”
But the senior wasn’t perfect. Late in the second quarter, Dungey was called for unsportsmanlike conduct after flicking the ball into Brandon Barlow’s facemask following a Syracuse timeout. The infraction forced an Orange punt, which soon gave way to the Eagles’ second touchdown of the day: a 69-yard pass to Jeff Smith. Just like Syracuse’s first scoring play of the game, blown coverage played a major role in the senior wideout slipping loose, catching Brown’s pass, and having a sea of green ahead of him. Nevertheless, the touchdown threw BC back into the game, just as halftime was approaching.
The problem was, there were still two minutes and 54 seconds left on the clock—more than enough time for the Orange—which could have easily eclipsed 100 snaps on the afternoon had it not been for its double-digit advantage—to put up some more points before intermission. All it took was three plays and 50 seconds for Syracuse to do just that. A 35-yard completion to Taj Harris, a pass interference call, and an incredible 9-yard Nykeim Johnson catch set the stage for Dungey’s third and final rushing touchdown. On 3rd-and-1 from the BC 18-yard line, the 6-foot-4, 226-pound quarterback powered through the line and Will Harris—the Eagles’ hardest hitter—for not only a first down, but also an Orange score, handing Syracuse a 14-point lead heading into the break.
During intermission, it was announced that Dillon—who rushed the ball 12 times for 56 yards in the first two frames—would not return to the game. On the second play of the second half, BC fans received some more bad news. The Eagles’ other No. 2, otherwise known as Zach Allen—the team’s do-it-all defensive end who is projected as a first-round pick in this year’s NFL Draft—hobbled off the field with an apparent right ankle injury after being driven to the ground by Syracuse offensive lineman Koda Martin.
Now, BC was missing both of its star defensive ends, who entering Saturday had totaled a combined a 15.5 sacks on the year. Barlow and Marcus Valdez filled the void, or at least attempted to. At first, it seemed like the Eagles would respond. After Connor Strachan nearly picked off Taj Harris on the double pass, Taj-Amir Torres made the most of an errant Dungey deep ball, intercepting a pass that ended up in no-man’s land and returning it 34 yards all the way to the Orange 31. Brown turned the takeaway into points in no time, dropping a 29-yard pass into the arms of Ben Glines for the redshirt junior’s seventh touchdown of the year.
All of a sudden, BC was only trailing Syracuse, 28-21. If Brown continued to play to his potential, the Eagles might have just had the firepower to keep pace with the Orange. Instead, he threw a pair of picks and fumbled the ball in the pocket, giving Syracuse all the opportunities it needed to create separation.
The first Brown interception paved the way for an 11-play, 76-yard Orange touchdown drive, one that culminated in a 22-yard pass that soared over Lukas Denis and landed in the hands of Custis. BC’s best bet to get back in the game came on the following drive. Brown converted back-to-back third downs, doubling the Eagles’ conversion total on the day before misfiring on 4th-and-7 from the Syracuse 16-yard line. The ball hit off the extended arm of C.J. Lewis, Brown yelled in anger, and Addazio looked on in shock.
Whether it was jumping offsides or missing tackles, BC’s injury-plagued defense was spiralling out of control. The unit, which gave up a season-high 559 yards, had no answer for Dungey and the Orange offense. Strickland bruised Jim Reid’s crew with seven rushing plays on Syracuse’s final scoring drive of the game, at one point, bursting free for 21 yards, en route to the goal line. Who else but Dungey put the finishing touches on the series and the game with a 2-yard touchdown pass to Harris. There was nine minutes and seven seconds remaining, but the game felt like it had been over for hours.
It was a tough way to go out for 21 seniors, the last remaining Eagles who endured the program’s infamous 0-8 ACC slate back in 2015—a class that could very well send five-plus players to the NFL. In Addazio’s eyes, they still have something to play for.
“They’re going to go—for the fifth time in six years they’re going to go to a bowl game, a good bowl game,” the sixth-year BC coach said.
And for the fifth time in six years, the Eagles are also on a crash course for 7-6—a record that screams average. For a senior class as talented as BC’s, the once revolutionary 2018 season is becoming harder and harder to spin as anything other than a disappointment.
Featured Image by Ikram Ali / For The Heights
Photos by Jonathan Ye and Ikram Ali / For The Heights