Sports, Football, Top Story, Fall

Quarterback Replacement Not Enough as Eagles Crumble to Northern Illinois

It took two drives for Boston College football head coach Jeff Hafley to yank starting quarterback Emmett Morehead from the field and bench him during Saturday’s opening game against Northern Illinois. 

After starting the game 3 for 6 for 14 yards, Hafley pulled the plug on BC’s starter and inserted sophomore Central Florida transfer Thomas Castellanos. Even though Morehead looked timid from the beginning, Hafley said pulling him was the plan all along. 

“Thomas had a really good training camp,” Hafley said. “Him and Emmett both did. So we thought he was deserving to play. So that was not indicative of how Emmett played. That was our plan.”

Castellanos certainly didn’t look like a backup when he spearheaded a fourth quarter, six-play 83-yard drive to tie the contest at 21 apiece. A 30-yard Jaden Williams touchdown reception hurled the Eagles back into contention after being down by 14 points earlier in the fourth. The score was enough to send the game to overtime. 

But Castellanos’ magic only lasted so long, as BC couldn’t muster a touchdown in the extra period. The Eagles settled for a 39-yard field goal from Liam Connor, which was his first collegiate field goal. 

NIU (1–0) then had no trouble bullying its way into the endzone to defeat BC (0–1) off a one-yard quarterback sneak and win 27–24, sending the remaining fans inside Alumni Stadium home with feelings of disaster—and deja vu. That’s because last season, BC lost its season opener in brutal fashion as well. 

“We talked about that in the locker room,” Hafley said. “Donovan [Ezeiruaku] actually grabbed the group and he made that exact statement. He said last year we lost the opener, and this year we need to respond differently.”

The quarterback switch became a plan that the entire roster knew about going into the matchup. Castellanos said he knew since fall camp. And everyone was on board with the rotation, according to linebacker Vinny DePalma. 

“We knew it going into the week, and everyone in the locker rooms was good with it,” DePalma said. “Everyone in the locker room felt confident in both guys.”

As Morehead watched from the sidelines, Castellanos burst onto the scene with an electrifying 29-yard run in the first quarter. He showed flashes of his ultra-athletic abilities and why he made such an impression in camp. 

“Once we got going with Thomas, we made the decision to keep it going,” Hafley said. “We felt like he was doing a nice job.”

Castellanos initially couldn’t connect on any deep throws, and Hafley put Morehead back under center to start the second half in response to BC’s scoreless first half. 

Morehead’s return was only a cameo, however, as Castellanos was inserted back into the game after just one Morehead drive in true double-QB fashion. The flip-flopping is something Hafley said he wouldn’t rule out going forward. 

“We’ll talk about it,” Hafley said of switching back and forth between quarterbacks. “I think they’re both deserving of play. [We’ll] process it, talk to the offensive coaches, and we’ll go from there.”

Castellanos rose to the occasion during his third quarter return, capitalizing on the Eagles’ fumble recovery that put BC on NIU’s 25-yard line at the 6:53 mark. He then connected with a wide-open Lewis Bond for an 11-yard touchdown to cut the Huskies’ lead to 14–7. Castellanos stayed in at the position for the remainder of the game. 

Castellanos also had stellar protection from a revamped offensive line, which only gave up one sack, but Hafley is unsure how his new unit truly played. 

“We never even got into a rhythm,” Hafley said. “It seemed like we ran the ball for four yards and ran the ball for seven yards and then we went backwards. It was self-inflicted.”

Castellanos led BC in rushing with 74 yards and finished 13 of 28 for 138 yards, two touchdowns, and one interception. While he didn’t always put the ball in a catchable zone, BC’s wideouts recorded plenty of missed catches that went right through their hands. 

“Missed opportunities, I guess, is probably the key to this game,” Hafley said. “I mean, I felt like we had guys open.”

Hafley said he doesn’t believe switching quarterbacks throughout the game affected BC’s offensive rhythm. 

“I thought it actually brought a spark and got us going a little bit,” Hafley said.

The Eagles were called for 10 penalties that resulted in 93 yards lost. Two occurred during the fourth quarter on third downs when BC needed a stop to get the ball back down 21–14, which allowed NIU to drain more clock. 

Despite tying the game up and sending it to overtime—with a few highlight plays along the way—Saturday consisted of sloppy, unprepared play, according to Hafley. 

“Week one, you can’t be sloppy,” Hafley said. “Week one, you can’t have false starts. Week one, you can’t have careless penalties that are gonna send you backward. Gosh, I preached about it so much, and here we are.”

September 2, 2023