Boston College football put up a record-breaking performance the last time the Eagles visited the Carrier Dome in 2019, scoring 58 points and racking up a staggering 496 yards against the Orange defense. With BC favored by 14 points ahead of Saturday’s matchup against Syracuse and the Orange ranked as one of the worst defenses in college football this season, the Eagles seemed poised for another impressive offensive display and comfortable win.
Instead, the Eagles (5-3, 4-3 Atlantic Coast) struggled to convert on offense all game and barely survived a late charge by Syracuse (1-7, 1-6) to eke out a 16-13 victory.
“Certainly not our cleanest game, and probably not our best when we go back and look at it,” head coach Jeff Hafley said in his postgame press conference. “But at the end of the day, we’re 5-3. We were a team that was picked to finish 15th in the ACC—we just won our fourth ACC game.”
The only similarity between the Eagles’ narrow victory and the shellacking they levied on Syracuse last year was their success running the ball. David Bailey was the Eagles’ offensive linchpin for much of the game, tallying 125 yards on just 25 carries. Travis Levy added another 73 yards on an efficient 4.3 yards per carry.
“I’ve felt good about our run game since the Virginia Tech game,” Hafley said. “The sign of a good team is to take steps forward, so once we saw that, we had to keep getting better. I’m proud of the way those guys did today.”
Bailey’s and Levy’s impressive performances were especially critical for the Eagles as quarterback Phil Jurkovec struggled for much of the game. While his final stat line—20-of-29 for 208 yards and a touchdown—was solid, he was largely inaccurate and repeatedly had to be bailed out by impressive catches from his receivers.
Still, the biggest factor behind the offense’s inability to put up many points was not in struggling to gain yards but in failing to finish drives with touchdowns. BC came away with just one touchdown on four trips into the red zone.
The Eagles’ field goal kicking woes of the last several years reared their ugly head, as Aaron Boumerhi—who has been incredibly consistent for the Eagles this year—converted just three of the five field goals he attempted.
Luckily for BC’s offense, the defense proved well up to the task of containing the Syracuse offense, allowing just 240 yards and forcing a pair of turnovers. The front seven created havoc for true freshman quarterback JaCobian Morgan, sacking him four times.
“Credit to Tem [Lukabu] and his staff and the players—they stepped up today when the offense needed it,” Hafley said.
The Eagles got on the board first, driving 80 yards on their second possession of the game—after a game-opening three-and-out—and capping the drive with a 33-yard field goal from Boumerhi.
Syracuse responded with a field goal of its own on the next possession, tying the game at three apiece with 11:59 to go in the second quarter. While the Eagles’ defense played an overall strong performance, it struggled to contain the speed and size of Syracuse’s outside receivers early on as they picked up several big gains.
Orange receiver Taj Harris led the team with seven catches for 61 yards.
The Eagles’ lone touchdown drive of the afternoon came just before halftime. Jaelen Gill’s 11-yard punt return put BC at its own 34 with 1:04 to play in the second quarter. It was all Jurkovec from then out, as he drove the entire field on just three plays and showed the arm ability that escaped him for much of the game. Jurkovec capped the drive off with a perfect 20-yard strike to Zay Flowers, who just managed to get a foot down before he tumbled out of the end zone.
The two teams again traded field goals on back-to-back possessions in the third quarter, and Boumerhi converted a 22 yarder with 2:05 to play in the game to give the Eagles a 16-6 lead.
Still, Syracuse refused to give up without a fight. Despite having netted a miserly negative 12 yards on their last three possessions, Morgan and the Orange offense marched the entire length of the field in just a minute and 44 seconds to cut the Eagles’ lead to three.
With only 21 seconds remaining, Syracuse was forced to try an onside kick, but Andre Szmyt’s kick went out of bounds, and the Eagles ran Bailey three times to close out the game.
“A lot of times this year, our offense has started to score a lot of points. It’s not always going to happen—you have games like this,” Hafley said. “It’s great to see that the defense was able to step up and hold them the way they did to 13 points, so that’s huge.”
Featured Image by Dennis Nett / Syracuse Post-Standard via ACC Media