Sports, Football, Fall

Notebook: Castellanos Shakes Off First-Half Jitters, Run Game Orchestrates BC’s Victory over Cavaliers

In what some would describe as a tale of two halves, Boston College football scooped up its first conference win of the season on Saturday over Virginia. For the fourth time this season, the Eagles’ matchup was decided by a margin of three points or less, this time resulting in a 27–24 victory for BC. This type of resilience—win or loss—is becoming typical for the Eagles this season.

Garnering zero points and basically no offense for the entirety of the first two quarters, quarterback Thomas Castellanos took charge from BC’s 36-yard line with 1:32 remaining in the second frame. A deep incomplete pass turned pass interference penalty was followed by a 34-yard haul by Lewis Bond, which set BC up to turn the tide. Students and parents at Alumni Stadium got up on their feet and finally celebrated when Pat Garwo III registered a 2-yard rushing touchdown, leaving just 47 seconds on the clock after BC’s kickoff. 

Forty-seven seconds felt more like a millennium for the Cavaliers, however, as Virginia’s Tony Muskett orchestrated a crafty two-minute drill to push his offense down the field. With three seconds remaining—which were left on the clock due to Shitta Sillah losing his helmet—Muskett launched a 39-yard pass on a wing and a prayer. The Hail Mary successfully filtered into the hands of Malachi Fields within a heap of prevent defenders ballistically attempting to knock it down in the end zone. Boos commenced as the Eagles trotted back into the locker room. 

But BC head coach Jeff Hafley said it didn’t take a lot to rejuvenate his roster during the halftime break. He said it’s who the players are “in here,” referring to BC’s heart and grit, that let the team storm back for the rest of the game. Hafley also mentioned that his players do in fact take the criticism they’ve received from fans and the press to heart, and that they probably keep it in mind as fuel. 

There isn’t a particular consistency that BC’s football program exhibits, as all five games have been decided on a multitude of factors. One thing’s for sure, though. Hafley still feels the team’s energy on the sideline, and maybe there’s something to be said about that. Twenty points in the second half alone and only three points allowed surely solidifies that belief in some people’s eyes. 

Here are three observations from the win.

First-Half Jitters 

For people watching Castellanos for the first time on Saturday, they wouldn’t dare to think he was the same player who totaled 954 passing yards, eight passing touchdowns, and only two interceptions in his first four games in Chestnut Hill. 

Incompletions nearly out-totaled completions in the first half for the sophomore signal caller, who also lazily tossed two interceptions in the first two quarters.

Sure, Castellanos maybe shouldn’t have been on the field for his first interception. Hafley elected to go for it on 4th-and-6 from Virginia’s 34-yard line, and Castellanos classically rolled out of the pocket to find a streaking receiver or pull a pass-catcher out of his route and back to the line of scrimmage. He took a shot at Joseph Griffin Jr. nearly 20 yards downfield, but Virginia’s Dre Walker clearly stood in the way of his vision downfield for the pick. And the mental mistakes didn’t end there. 

On 2nd-and-8 at the start of the second quarter, Castellanos nearly lost the football on a fumble that Ozzy Trapilo luckily fell on. On the very next play, however, again intending a pass for Griffin, Castellanos lost sight of a Cavalier linebacker in the flat and was intercepted without anybody even noticing where the ball went. All of a sudden, Virginia’s Josh Ahern was traversing past the 50-yard line to make his way out of bounds. 

It was unusual to see Castellanos flustered like this but understandable for a quarterback making only his fourth start since high school. But leaving at halftime would’ve been unwise for any fan, because Castellanos finished the game with 186 yards through the air, two passing touchdowns, and 78 rushing yards. 

Ground-and-Pound Turnaround

BC’s offensive play style flip-flopped drastically in the second half, largely in thanks to the escalation of the run scheme. Garwo, an All-ACC Second Team pick in 2021 who hadn’t yet broken out since that year, paved the way on the ground with 87 rushing yards and one rushing touchdown, along with Castellanos’ 78 rushing yards and Alex Broome’s 34 rushing yards. 

While there were bits and pieces of designed runs for Castellanos that functioned in the first half, nothing worked more effectively than shotgun gives to Garwo who stomped over the Cavaliers’ 109th-ranked rush defense with ferocity. 

With 13:47 remaining in the third quarter, Garwo took a handoff from the left side and bounced off multiple defenders while keeping his feet up with a high step, taking off for a 14-yard gain. Offensive guard Christian Mahogany towed a footpath for Garwo, demolishing linebackers with pancake blocks. Another trick-play, jet-sweep run for Ryan O’Keefe just two minutes later resulted in a gain of 14 yards en route to a Liam Connor field goal to cut BC’s deficit to 11 points. 

On BC’s next scoring drive, Broome utilized Mahogany and Kyle Hergel to widen a triangle gap for a run of 33 yards. A Castellanos run of eight yards then set up a two-yard touchdown pass to Griffin. BC finished with more rushing yards (203) than passing yards (183) in the game as well, and it took 47 worthy attempts to do so. 

Splintering Virginia’s Passing Game

Overcoming a 14-point deficit at halftime wasn’t just the offense’s doing. BC’s defense finally shined bright in a win, especially in the second half. 

BC recorded just one sack against Northern Illinois in Week One, one sack against Holy Cross in Week Two, no sacks against Florida State in Week Three, and two sacks against Louisville in Week Four. But on Saturday, BC’s defensive interior found a way to clobber the Cavaliers’ protection in the second half, picking up five sacks in the game. 

On top of that, Elijah Jones tacked on the Eagles’ first interception of the season with a crucial over-the-top pick on a post route with five minutes remaining in the third quarter. 

Hafley brings defensive expertise to the table, and if he wants to keep boasting his title as a head coach with defensive specialties, he needs to keep stringing together performances like these against FBS opponents.

October 1, 2023