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Eagles Mark Jurkovec’s Return With Win Over Virginia Tech

Hours before Boston College football kicked off against Virginia Tech, rumors began to swirl about the health of quarterback Phil Jurkovec. The signal caller had been absent from BC’s lineup since a wrist injury in Week 2 against UMass required surgery. 

Rumors, however, are just that, and BC head coach Jeff Hafley had made no official call about who got the nod. But when the Eagles stormed out of the tunnel, Jurkovec, donning full pads for the first time in six games, led the way out. 

“It’s probably the most confident, fearless, and the best leadership I’ve seen from him since we’ve been here,” Hafley said of Jurkovec in his postgame press conference. “Not his best performance, but he threw some good balls. He had a different way about him today, and we all felt it.”

A streak of four straight ACC losses for the Eagles (5–4, 1–4 Atlantic Coast) and a host of quarterback uncertainty went by the wayside, as BC took down Virginia Tech (4-5, 2-3) by a final score of 17–3 in BC’s annual Red Bandanna Game. BC finished with 112 yards through the air and 234 yards on the ground thanks in large part to Jurkovec and Pat Garwo III. 

Hafley said that Jurkovec was medically cleared last Friday, and after taking just a handful of snaps to open the week, he approached Hafley and offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti Jr. with a simple message: “I’m playing.”

“And when Phil looks you in the eye and says that, you listen to him,” Hafley said.

After nearly eight weeks of sitting on the sideline, Jurkovec resumed his spot between the lines as if he hadn’t skipped a beat. Garwo took the first handoff for 13 yards, and one play later, Jurkovec tucked it for another 11-yard gain. BC chugged its way to the Hokies’ 35-yard line, and Jurkovec rolled out to the right and tossed it right into the hands of Virginia Tech’s Dorian Strong. 

As Strong looked to return it, Jurkovec came downhill alongside Jaelen Gill, who punched the ball out for Jurkovec to jump on. Just as quickly as he gave the ball away, Jurkovec had suddenly righted his mistake, and the Eagles had a prime opportunity on the Hokies’ 13-yard line. 

“Jaelen [Gill] never gave up on the play,” Jurkovec said. “That’s the most proud I am of any play that Jaelen has ever had.”

After a few ground-and-pound runs by Garwo, Jurkovec lined up on the eight-yard line and tucked the ball, diving into the endzone for BC’s first score of the day. Connor Lytton’s extra point was good, and the Eagles led 7–0 late in the first quarter. 

Jurkovec’s thunderous return was a stark contrast to Braxton Burmeister, who has been the Hokie’s go-to signal caller all year, as Burmeister went down with an injury in Virginia Tech’s next series after attempting just one pass. Following Burmeister’s injury, the Hokies were no more successful with backup quarterback Knox Kadum, who completed one pass through the entire first half. 

After just one first down with Kadum at the helm, punter Peter Moore came in for his second punt of the day. Moore ended the day with seven punts, while BC’s Grant Carlson punted five times. 

Leading by a score, BC went into clock-killing mode, grinding its way to a nearly nine-minute drive on 16 plays for 64 yards. Entering the red zone, though, BC’s offense stalled, and Lytton came in for a 33-yard field goal, giving the Eagles a 10–0 lead with 6:48 left in the first half. 

Though BC led on the scoreboard, the stat sheet told a different story. Jurkovec finished the first half with 3-of-8 passing for just 22 yards through the air. His biggest gain—if it could be called that—came on the interception, which BC got back thanks to Gill’s forced fumble.

Virginia Tech was equally unsuccessful on offense through the first half, as Burmeister and Kadum combined for one completion—which came from Kadum with 30 seconds left in the half—and a total of three yards through the air. Without leading receiver Tré Turner, out with an injury, the Hokies’ offense fell flat, and the run game—good for 110 yards through the first half—provided little relief. 

After halftime, though, the gears were turning, and a crowd of 35,637 got a glimpse of a BC offense of old. Garwo went to ground for 10 of BC’s 11 plays of its half-opening drive, all of which went for gains. The only play that didn’t flow through Garwo was a 46-yard bomb from Jurkovec to Zay Flowers.

Garwo’s 11th run of the series went for three yards, as the 5-foot-8 back dove into the endzone to give BC a 17–0 lead. 

Trailing by three scores, Virginia Tech strung together its best offensive drive of the game, only for BC to stop it up and force a field goal out of the Hokies. It was good from 47 yards, marking Virginia Tech’s first points of the game. 

But the Hokies’ offensive success was short-lived, as on their next chance with the ball, a corner blitz sent Josh DeBerry flying into the backfield, sacking Kadum on third down for a three-and-out. 

From there, the game became a battle of wills. Virginia Tech put together yet another promising offensive drive, but just as the Hokies entered the red zone, Marcus Valdez forced a fumble, which Mike Palmer picked up and returned to the house. Confusion among the officiating crew, though, meant that the play was blown dead back at the 15-yard line. 

Again, BC drove down the field, and again, Virginia Tech put a halt to it. BC did the same when Virginia Tech had the ball. Punt after punt, the clock ticked away, and the score remained 17–3 for the remainder of the game. 

Virginia Tech’s scoring drought was as much a result of BC’s defense as it was its offensive line. BC got the ball back with just under five minutes to go in the game, and though Virginia Tech was expecting a run on every play to run out the clock, BC’s offensive line opened up opportunities for Garwo to keep getting first downs until BC was finally ready to take victory formation. 

In his return to the field, Jurkovec was far from his usual form, finishing with 7-of-13 passing for 112 yards through the air, plus 65 yards on the ground. 

“Look, well, it was a pretty ugly game,” Jurkovec said. “It wasn’t very pretty. … The ball got away from me, but really what carried us was the offensive line just driving the defense back, the running backs making great cuts, and then the defense holding them to no touchdowns.”

The defensive effort was especially impressive considering the dwindling depth, particularly in the secondary. Linebacker Isaiah Graham-Mobley, defensive back Deon Jones, and cornerback Brandon Sebastian were all absent from the defensive lineup with injuries, and safeties Jason Maitre and Jahmin Muse are out for the season, according to Senior Associate Athletics Director for Communications Jason Baum. 

In their place, Palmer and Jaiden Woodbey stepped up. 

“You’re one play away from making a big impact on the team,” Woodbey said about BC’s next-man-up mentality. “And I feel like everybody had that right mindset this week.”

Featured Image by Nicole Wei / Heights Staff

November 6, 2021