Three more yards is all Boston College football needed to tie up a hard-fought, down-to-the-wire ball game against the No. 12 North Carolina, but a goal-line interception sealed the Eagles’ first loss of the year. After last week’s game-winning field goal against Texas State, the Eagles were looking to start their 2020 campaign with a 3-0 record for the first time since 2018. Here are a few key takeaways from the Eagles’ 26-22 loss:
BC is Becoming an Air-Raid Team
Phil Jurkovec has been opening things up on the offensive side of the ball for BC all season, and it was no different against UNC. Nine different Eagles found themselves on the receiving end of his 37 completions. Jurkovec threw the ball a whopping 58 times on Saturday, which goes to show just how much trust head coach Jeff Hafley has in his young quarterback.
Jurkovec’s favorite target, tight end Hunter Long, was the star of night for the Eagles––Jurkovec targeted Long 17 times, and the tight end came down with 96 receiving yards, nearly a third of the entire offense’s total passing yards. Out of BC’s 353 yards of offense, 313 were through the air. It’s a stark contrast to the Eagles of years past, who often relied heavily on the ground game behind AJ Dillon. With the hole that Dillon’s departure left in BC’s offense—the Eagles gained just 40 yards on the ground this week—it has become clear that the Eagles will only go as far as Jurkovec is able to take them.
Jurkovec showed poise with the game on the line as well, registering a 15 play, 69 yard drive to bring the Eagles within two points at the end of the fourth quarter. The final drive felt eerily reminiscent of Jurkovec’s fourth-quarter push against Texas State last week that gave BC the chance for a go-ahead field goal. This week, he completed 10 passes in that game-ending drive—including five straight—en route to BC’s final touchdown of the game. With the game on the line, however, Jurkovec threw his first interception of the game as the Eagles attempted a 2-point conversion, and the Tar Heels walked away with a victory.
Even Lockdown Defense Isn’t Enough
BC’s defense gave the ranked Tar Heels a run for their money, tallying an interception and four sacks. The highlight play from the defensive side of the ball came as Jahmin Muse deflected UNC powerhouse quarterback Sam Howell’s pass in the air, allowing corner Brandon Sebastian to intercept it at the 5-yard line and set up a quick BC touchdown. The play, set up by a collapsing pocket around Howell, was a testament to the strength of BC’s veteran defensive line. Last year, the Eagles’ defensive unit ranked 125th nationally in total defense and, already this year, it has jumped to No. 25 in the country.
Max Richardson and Isaiah McDuffie led the charge for the Eagles as well, combining for 25 total tackles. McDuffie showed an adept ability to penetrate the offensive line into the backfield, notching two quarterback hurries and a sack. Brandon Barlow, Marcus Valdez, and Maximillian Roberts all notched sacks as well. BC’s hard-hitting defense showed that it can stand up against even the biggest, toughest offenses, as UNC is ranked No. 30 in total offense nationally.
Emotions Run High, and Penalties Follow
In the Eagles’ postgame press conference, both Hafley and many of his players said that they went into this game expecting a battle of wills. It was an aggressive, physical fight from start to finish and as a result, both teams’ tempers flared, often for the worst.
The Eagles first showed their emotions when, after Long took a huge hit from Trey Morrison, UNC’s sideline began to cheer. Long sat motionless in the middle of the field, visibly shaken up as UNC celebrated, and Hafley loudly made his frustration known to the referees. After the game, Barlow described the Tar Heels’ reaction as “fuel to the fire.”
Then, with tension at its peak in the third quarter, BC’s defense suffered two back-to-back personal foul penalties for unnecessary roughness well after the whistle was blown. Add onto that an undisciplined pass interference call on McDuffie that nullified a BC interception, and UNC marched its way effortlessly downfield for a 45-yard gain without ever completing a pass. The penalties gave the Tar Heels the chance to hit a late-game field goal to put them up 24-16. Without that field goal, BC would have gotten the ball back with plenty of time on the clock, all three timeouts, and would not have had to go for a 2-point conversion to tie.
The Hafley Effect
One stark difference between BC’s new coaching regime and its predecessor is the aggression and energy that it’s brought to the program. Before the fourth quarter of every game, BC’s entire sideline now gathers around the coaches to pump each other up. Even without fans, the sideline is constantly “juiced”—or full of energy—as Hafley described it. Against UNC, the energy was no different.
With 1:09 left in the first half, Hafley’s meticulous play calling resulted in a quick field goal that brought the Eagles within one point heading into the locker room. Over his first three games, fans have seen him time and time again animated on the sidelines, constantly in the ears of all his players. If Hafley can get his team to take the game down to the wire against the No. 12 team in the nation, Eagles fans have plenty to look forward to under this new coaching staff. Long said after the game that, thanks to the Eagles’ newfound spirit, they never had any doubt that they could compete with a top-tier team until the final second.
Featured Image by Jess Rivilis / Heights Editor