AMHERST — When Dennis Grosel played his first snap in maroon and gold, Brady Olson was in the first week of his junior year of high school. When Grosel tied Doug Flutie’s record for passing yardage in a single game against Virginia to close the Eagles’ 2020 season, Olson was probably elbow deep in textbooks, studying for his senior year midterms.
Grosel went two years at BC without seeing any game action. Olson went one game at UMass.
Though five years—and 16 game appearances—separate the two backup quarterbacks, each heard their name called on Saturday, as Boston College football (2–0) took on UMass (0–2) in the Eagles’ first trip to Amherst since 1982. Olson, a true freshman, had ample time to mentally prepare for his appearance, as UMass head coach Walt Bell announced on Friday that usual starter Tyler Lytle would be out of Saturday’s game for undisclosed reasons.
Redshirt senior Grosel, on the other hand, served as a pinch hitter when BC standout Phil Jurkovec went down with a wrist injury just one series into the game. Grosel flashed his in-game experience, leading the Eagles to a 45–28 win over their in-state rivals.
“It’s almost like I’m more comfortable doing that than I am starting a game at this point,” Grosel said. “I’ve done it enough where just being the backup you’ve always got to be ready to go.”
Jurkovec left the field and headed to the locker room accompanied by BC’s medical staff. BC head coach Jeff Hafley said he’s unsure about Jurkovec’s status.
In Jurkovec’s absence, Grosel, who has made a career out of playing second fiddle, stepped up. Grosel finished with 11-of-14 passing for 199 yards and one touchdown.
“When Dennis walks on the field, you don’t blink,” Hafley said.
Where BC really beat the Minutemen, however, was on the ground, which has not been the case since the departure of AJ Dillon and a run-heavy offense under Steve Addazio. In just the first quarter, BC totaled 97 yards. In eight of BC’s 11 games last season, the Eagles totaled fewer than 97 yards across an entire four quarters’ worth of football.
“That’s what we should do against a team like this,” Hafley said “No disrespect, but we saw what we saw, and we wanted to go out and run the ball against them.”
Pat Garwo III had a career day out of the backfield, finishing with 160 yards on 15 carries, good for a staggering 10.7 yards per game. Across his seven appearances last season, Garwo totaled just 122 yards.
All together, five different Eagles combined for 254 yards on the ground. BC’s highest single-game rush yard total in 2020 was 264, which came in a strikingly similar 48–27 win over Georgia Tech.
BC racked up its first two rushing touchdowns in the first quarter, first from grad transfer Alec Sinkfield and second from Grosel. Both were short gains and both were the result of 65-plus-yard, ground-and-pound drives.
After a lopsided first quarter and a scoreless second quarter, BC and UMass went toe to toe and point for point in the third, and each score mirrored the one before it. After the teams traded touchdowns, BC responded with a long shot down the sideline to Trae Barry—nearly an identical play to his highlight reel–worthy hurdle from a week ago—for a score.
UMass responded with another touchdown, which its special teams set the stage for. George Georgopoulos punted it away to Travis Levy, who underestimated the power in Georgeopoulos’ strike, and as Levy backpedaled, the ball dropped through his hands. UMass recovered it on the one-yard line, setting up an easy score to cut BC’s lead to 14.
On the ensuing drive, the Minutemen held BC up and forced Grant Carlson and the punting unit onto the field. As Eric Collins collected it near his own end zone, Vinny DePalma came downhill and forced the ball out, straight into the waiting arms of Jaiden Woodbey. The transfer from Florida State made a house call for his first points as an Eagle.
“I think the football gods are rewarding us,” Woodbey said of his team’s recent turnover success.
Still, the game was far from perfect. BC struggled through the 2020 season with penalties, which plagued the Eagles. After incurring just two penalties last week—neither of which was a dead-ball foul—the Eagles were back to their old ways with 11 penalties that totaled 99 yards.
The most penalty-ridden drive for the Eagles came near the end of the third quarter. During the kick that set up Woodbey’s touchdown, BC incurred a personal foul for 15 yards on the end of the ensuing kickoff. Danny Longman then kicked it out of bounds for another 15 yards. On back-to-back plays, officials called BC for a face mask penalty and pass interference, both 15-yard penalties. After starting on the 50-yard line, UMass only had to travel 20 yards of its own volition to score, cutting BC’s lead to 35–21.
“It was like every drive was a result of our self-inflicted wounds,” Hafley said. “That clearly starts with me. I thought I had it fixed. I clearly don’t.”
Even after handing the Minutemen “free yards,” as Hafley called them, BC’s defense held up in red-zone situations. Though the second quarter ended scoreless, it wasn’t for a lack of trying on the part of UMass. UMass went for it on fourth and one, and thanks to a six-yard run from Olson, had prime positioning on the two-yard line. BC executed a near-perfect goal-line stand, pushing the Minutemen back to the eight-yard line and forcing a turnover on downs.
BC’s final touchdown of the game once again came on special teams, as Levy made a 96-yard house call on a kickoff return. UMass made one final bid at the end zone, but Brandon Sebastian came up with an interception—the Eagles’ third takeaway of the game.
“I think that we just need to get a little bit more disciplined,” Woodbey said. “It’s hard to win on the road, for one, so handling all of that adversity … I think that we’ll fix a lot of those things up.”
Featured Image by Michael Dwyer / AP Photo