When Pittsburgh quarterback Nate Yarnell’s pass sailed into Malcolm Epps’ hands in the second quarter, Boston College football cornerback Khari Johnson didn’t try to bat the ball away or intercept it.
Instead, Johnson did his best Cristiano Ronaldo impression and headbutted the side of Epps’ helmet to earn a targeting penalty, which ejected him from the game.
It appeared BC (6–5, 3–4 Atlantic Coast) as a whole may have been playing the wrong sport on Thursday night in its 24–16 loss, only finding the end zone once, tossing two interceptions, and allowing 404 total yards to Pitt (3–8, 2–5), who has the statistically worst offense in the conference.
“We didn’t deserve to win tonight,” quarterback Thomas Castellanos said after BC’s second straight loss.
The Eagles certainly had their chances. Down 17–13 with 9:29 remaining in the game, Kye Robichaux—returning from a one-game absence—gained 17 quick rushing yards to put BC within Pitt’s 25-yard line. Castellanos appeared to score on a 23-yard scramble, but the referees ruled that the sophomore just stepped out of bounds by a hair.
BC head coach Jeff Hafley said he inquired about the call but was told he was not allowed to challenge.
Two plays later, Castellanos appeared to score again, this time bouncing to the outside for an 8-yard rush. But officials called Ozzy Trapilo for holding on the play, sending BC back 10 yards and negating the score.
The Eagles totaled eight penalties for 55 lost yards, an eerie reminder of their early-season struggles.
“It can’t happen,” Hafley said of the penalties. “But I’ll have to look and find out why, because we have not been a very penalized team in a long, long time. There were costly moments.”
Castellanos couldn’t connect with Pittsburgh, Pa. native Dino Tomlin in the end zone on 2nd-and-17, and a Robichaux 2-yard rush forced BC to settle for a 33-yard field goal to make it a 17–16 game.
Robichaux finished with 118 rushing yards, his third 100-yard rushing game this season.
Pitt wasted little time, however, extending its lead to 24–16 two plays later when Rodney Hammond Jr. escaped for a 66-yard untouched rushing score at the 4:29 mark, leaving BC’s defense in the dust.
BC’s offense had one last chance with just over a minute remaining in the game, but Castellanos was sacked, called for throwing the ball from beyond the line of scrimmage, and then finally intercepted for the second time.
“We got to clean up the interceptions,” Hafley said of Castellanos, who has thrown four interceptions in BC’s last two games. “But he’s fighting. I like his effort. I thought he was really tough at the end.”
Castellanos finished the game 13 of 25 for 171 passing yards and a touchdown. He rushed for 21 yards on 17 attempts.
His first interception may have been even more costly, as BC was in the middle of a seven-play drive and on Pitt’s 18-yard line. On the eighth play, Castellanos threw right into double coverage, and the Eagles remained down 17–13 with 3:14 left in the third quarter.
“QB 101: don’t throw the ball late over the middle,” Castellanos said. “That one’s on me. Gotta be better. I take the blame for that. There’s nothing the coaches can do or anything like that. It’s got to be a better play by me.”
Robichaux, on the other hand, helped BC get on the board first to open the game, rushing five times for 22 yards on the first drive of the game. But Castellanos couldn’t scramble to keep the drive alive on third down, and the Eagles settled for a 42-yard Liam Connor field goal.
Pitt quickly responded with a 42-yard field goal of its own, and a Castellanos sack gave the Panthers the ball back. BC offered little to no defensive pressure, giving Yarnell ample time to sit in the pocket and find open receivers. Yarnell capped off the 15-play, 85-yard drive with a 4-yard rush to put the Panthers ahead 10–3 at the 9:07 mark in the second quarter.
“We did some uncharacteristic things on defense,” linebacker Kam Arnold said. “We had some missed opportunities.”
Two third-down conversions—one to Tomlin and one to Joseph Griffin Jr.—kept a late BC second-quarter drive alive, and the Eagles tallied a 45-yard field goal to go into halftime down 10–6.
Alex Broome, Robichaux, and Nate Johnson III pushed the pace to open the half, before Castellanos found Lewis Bond, who held on just long enough for the referees to rule a catch on a 24-yard touchdown pass to put BC back up 13–10 just over six minutes into the third quarter.
But that would be the Eagles’ only touchdown of the night, as BC was held under 20 points for the second time in its last three games.
“We got too complacent,” Castellanos said. “We got humbled the last two weeks. Quick turnaround, got a game Friday. Gotta wipe our wounds with these two losses.”