Sports, Football

Eagles Force Turnovers and Light Up on Offense in Victory Over Duke

With 1:26 to play in the third quarter, Boston College wideout Zay Flowers took advantage of a free release at the line of scrimmage and sprinted downfield into the Blue Devils’ secondary. As Duke’s safeties rushed downfield in response to the Eagles’ play action, Flowers faked toward the sideline, only to flip his hips and turn downfield when his defender took the bait. 

Quarterback Phil Jurkovec uncorked a perfect deep shot just a split second before he was crushed by an oncoming Blue Devil rusher, and Flowers walked into the end zone for a 61-yard touchdown. The score capped off a huge 16-point third quarter for the Eagles (1-0, 1-0 Atlantic Coast), clinching their 26-6 victory over Duke (0-2, 0-2) and giving Jeff Hafley the first win of his career on the Heights. 

The Eagles were led by huge performances from Jurkovec and Flowers, the latter of whom showed off dazzling route running and an elite ability to make defenders miss in space on his way to racking up 162 yards and a touchdown. Jurkovec overcame a slow start and played impressively in his debut under center, completing 17 of his 23 passes for 300 yards and two touchdowns. 

BC’s defense also put on a superb display, throttling Duke quarterback Chase Brice and the Blue Devils’ offense by forcing five turnovers. 

Brice finished the game at 23-of-42 for 217 yards and two interceptions. 

The Eagles started the game fast, forcing a three-and-out on Duke’s opening drive and then scoring a touchdown on their first possession. Running back David Bailey led the charge for BC on the first drive, picking up first down after first down as the Eagles marched down the field before punching the ball in at the goal line. 

Despite the initial success, the Eagles’ offense struggled to move the ball for most of the first half. Jurkovec threw an interception on an ill-advised pass into double coverage on BC’s second possession, and the Eagles never managed to gain more than 13 yards on a drive after their first possession until the third quarter.

The floodgates opened for the Eagles after halftime. With the Blue Devils facing a third-and-nine from deep within their own territory, Brice completed a pass to receiver Damond Philyaw-Johnson short of the first-down marker. BC cornerback Josh DeBerry immediately tackled Philyaw-Johnson and ripped the ball from his hands as they wrestled to the ground for what was eventually ruled a fumble recovery.

The Eagles’ offense took over on Duke’s own 12-yard line, extending the lead to 10-6 after a field goal from Danny Longman. BC continued to add to the lead on its next possession, driving 80 yards on four plays thanks to a pair of 27-yard catches from Flowers and a TD pass to Hunter Long. The touchdown play was one of Jurkovec’s most skillful of the entire game, as he rolled out of the pocket to his left and dodged a Duke defender before finding Long at the back of the end zone. 

BC made it 23-6 on the next possession with Jurkovec’s 61-yard bomb to Flowers.

“The kid hadn’t started a game since his state championship in high school,” Hafley said about Jurkovec during the postgame press conference. “Look what he did in the second half: He hung in, and he made some plays and he made some throws, and I think he showed all of us the potential that he has.”

Long also starred for the Eagles, notching seven catches for 93 yards and making several key downfield blocks to spring BC’s runners loose. 

Averaging 4.94 yards per play, Duke’s offense had moderate success moving the ball but was crippled over and over by costly turnovers. With Duke in the Eagles’ territory at the end of the first quarter, linebacker Isaiah McDuffie picked off Brice as he overshot a receiver deep over the middle. 

The Blue Devils turned it over on their next possession as well, as Chibueze Onwuka stripped the ball from running back Deon Jackson just as Duke seemed poised to punch the ball in from the Eagles’ four-yard line. Duke also turned it over on its last two possessions, erasing any hopes that the Blue Devils could salvage the game at the last minute.

“[When our] backs [were] up against the wall going into the red zone, you know we bent a little bit, we got tired a little bit, and then we either came up with a big play [or] a great takeaway, and totally changed the game,” Hafley said. 

The only rough patch of the Eagles’ performance on Saturday afternoon was the offensive line. Expected to be a strength for BC heading into the season, the unit struggled all game long, failing to create holes for BC’s running backs and consistently allowing pressure on Jurkovec. Bailey managed just 52 yards on 18 carries and Duke sacked Jurkovec six times. 

It was an unusual game for both sides, as COVD-19 restrictions meant there were no fans in attendance. Asked about how his players performed in such a strange environment with no crowd noise, Hafley said he and the team barely felt any different.

“I don’t think our guys noticed,” he said. “I think they had a blast on the sideline, they had a ton of energy. They never ever looked down, and it’s who this team is. We’re going to have our ups and downs, but it won’t matter as long as the process is right and we stick together.”

Featured Image by Nell Redmond via ACC Media

September 19, 2020