When Trevor Lawrence tested positive for COVID-19, ruling him out of Saturday’s game against Boston College football, CJ Lewis said he didn’t believe it at first. But even facing a team without its offensive linchpin—and arguably the best player in all of college football—the Eagles’ game plan didn’t change.
And it almost worked.
A high-flying first half for BC (4-3, 3-3 Atlantic Coast) gave way to a scoreless second half, and to the Eagles’ second heartbreaker this season, this time by a final score of 34-28 to No. 1 Clemson.
In the first half, the Eagles dominated on both sides of the ball, limited their mistakes, and scored drive after drive. In the second, Clemson (7-0, 6-0) put up a stifling defensive front while exploiting all parts of the field in an offensive scoring barrage.
Regardless of the outcome, BC put up a better fight against Clemson than any team has so far this year—an astounding feat for a developing team under a first-year head coach.
“Nobody gave us a chance to win the game or, probably, to be on the same field as them,” head coach Jeff Hafley said in his postgame press conference. “Our guys came out with confidence. They came out believing, wanting to win, and believing in each other.”
That mentality showed, as BC’s opening drive was a masterpiece of offensive efficiency. Phil Jurkovec tossed a total of three passes—all complete—and rushed once for 15 yards. In under two minutes, BC found itself on Clemson’s 11-yard line, setting up Jurkovec’s third pass of the night, received by Zay Flowers in the end zone.
Until Saturday, Clemson hadn’t trailed by even a single point all season long. In fact, the Tigers haven’t trailed in a regular season game in over a year, the last time being September of 2019. But after just two minutes of play, the Tigers found themselves behind by seven.
But of course, as the No. 1 team in the country, if the Tigers were going to go down, they were going to go down swinging.
The Tigers responded with an explosive drive of their own, culminating in a 35-yard touchdown pass from D.J. Uiagalelei to Heisman frontrunner Travis Etienne. Etienne entered the game just 43 yards shy of the all-time ACC record for career rushing yards. By racking up 84 yards on the ground and 140 through the air, Etienne did more than enough to write his name atop the record books.
“You see that guy take over games, so we were going to do everything we could to stop the back,” Hafley said of Etienne in his postgame press conference. “I had it on my call sheet written down: ‘Stop number nine.’”
The Eagles made every effort to do so. As Clemson knocked on the door once again in the first quarter, Etienne fumbled a handoff from Uiagalelei, and Brandon Sebastian was right there to scoop it up. With 100 yards of green space in front of him, Sebastian dashed for the end zone, no Tigers in sight. His scoop-and-score went for 97 yards, putting the Eagles up 21-7.
BC’s final score of the game came in the most improbable fashion. With about a minute left in the first half, the Eagles faced 4th-and-2, and they lined up appearing to set up a field goal try. But just before the snap, a receiver split out wide to the right, and John Tessitore went under center to call out the hard count. With it, Clemson jumped offsides, giving BC a fresh set of downs and the chance to go for the end zone. Tessitore’s father Joe, BC ʼ93, was calling the game from the broadcast booth and got to announce his son’s name as the catalyst for a game-changing play.
This was so awesome. Listen to Joe Tessitore on the call while his son John - the BC holder - draws Clemson offsides on a fake field goal attempt, leading to a TD on the next play. You can hear how proud Tess is of his son. What it’s all about 🙌 pic.twitter.com/oexRgM7zzl— Field Yates (@FieldYates) October 31, 2020
One play later, Jurkovec took a shot to the end zone, and Lewis, draped with a Clemson defender, showed elite concentration to haul in the tip-drill touchdown.
Though BC put up more points against Clemson in the first half than any team has scored total on the Tigers all season, the stats don’t reflect the team’s success. Jurkovec threw for just 204 yards on 12-of-24 passing, and the Eagles’ run game only mustered up 67 total yards.
Even so, on the heels of four first-half scores, BC went into the locker room ahead. Clemson notched a field goal as time wound down, cutting the lead from 18 to 15 heading into halftime. But the field goal, Hafley said, is a testament to his team’s persistence.
“Any time we can stop an offense with that firepower and hold them to a field goal, I think it gives momentum,” Hafley said. “And we had it going into the locker room.”
Even so, Clemson came out firing and mounted a furious second-half comeback. The Tigers not only notched three touchdowns and a safety in the second half, but they held the Eagles scoreless. Clemson earned its first lead of the game with 11:34 left to play on a 17-yard rush from Etienne. His second score of the day put the Tigers up 32-28.
Down by four, BC once again displayed its defensive persistence with the game on the line late in the fourth quarter. With two minutes on the clock, the Eagles’ defense held on third-and-1, forcing a three-and-out and a punt from Clemson. Until that point, Clemson had converted 100 percent of its 3rd-and-1 tries this year. The stop kept BC in the game for a brief moment, giving it hope for a two-minute drill-style victory.
“The way our players fought at the end. … Our guys never quit,” Hafley said.
But Will Spiers’ punt pinned the Eagles on their own four-yard line to start the drive. With Jurkovec throwing from his own end zone, Clemson sent pressure and forced him to try to get rid of it. But his pass was nowhere near an eligible receiver, so officials flagged Jurkovec with intentional grounding, handing a safety—and two points—to Clemson.
Even so, BC trailed by just one score and had the chance for an onside kick with a minute left. But Clemson covered it up, dashing the Eagles’ hopes at their first victory over an opponent ranked in the top five since a 14-7 win at No. 4 Notre Dame on Nov. 2, 2002.
Regardless of the outcome, BC showed that it can compete with any team in the country, regardless of ranking.
“Every week, we want to come out here and prove a point, because you know, BC always gets the bottom of the barrel,” Lewis said after the game. “We always play with a chip on our shoulder … and show the world that we can play with the top dogs.”
Featured Image by John Morgan / USA Today via ACC Media