Sports, Football, Top Story, Fall

Castellanos’ Heroics Lift Eagles Over No. 17 SMU in Fenway Bowl 

BOSTON—Two months ago, Boston College football quarterback Thomas Castellanos made a bold statement after the Eagles defeated Georgia Tech.

“Boston is back. Boston College football is back.”

Since then, BC won two games to extend its win streak to five games, and then looked lifeless in three straight losses to close out the regular season. 

But on a brisk Thursday afternoon inside a rainy Fenway Park for the Fenway Bowl against Southern Methodist, Castellanos’ declaration never felt more true. In fact, after the game, he doubled down on it.

“You guys will see,” Castellanos said. “Next year will be special. And Boston College football will be different. It will be.”

Castellanos was unstoppable on the ground with 156 rushing yards and two fourth-quarter touchdowns in muddy conditions, and SMU (11–3, 8–0 American Athletic) simply couldn’t contain the electrifying 5-foot-10 signal caller as he pranced around the Mustangs’ defense. His 102 passing yards proved to be enough to hand the Eagles (7–6, 3–5 Atlantic Coast) to a 23–14 victory for their first bowl win since 2016.

The last time Castellanos played in wet conditions like Thursday’s, he ran for 157 yards and four touchdowns in West Point, N.Y. But it could have been as dry as the Sahara Desert and the redshirt-sophomore was still going to do what he does best—use his legs.

“I ate dinner with the quarterbacks last night,” BC head coach Jeff Hafley said. “And I said ‘man, it looks like it’s gonna rain.’ And [Castellanos] goes, ‘I hope not, that means I’m gonna carry the ball 35 times.’ I said, ‘look buddy, if it’s sunny or rainy tomorrow, you’re gonna carry the ball 30+ times.’”

He ran 21 times. But it was just enough.

BC defense also allowed zero points in the second half, the first time they’ve accomplished that feat all season.

“We played our butts off,” linebacker Kam Arnold said. “We didn’t stop fighting until the end. We know how to fight through adversity.”

Thursday marked BC’s second win over a ranked opponent under Hafley.

The Eagles never gave SMU a chance to run away with it, even when it appeared one of the ACC’s newest members might do exactly that. Down 14–10 midway through the third quarter, SMU quarterback Kevin Jennings scrambled and fired a rocket to a wide-open Key’Shawn Smith in the endzone, who left BC’s KP Price in the dust, to seemingly go up by 11 points.

But Smith inexplicably dropped the ball, and Price redeemed himself six plays later to tip the Mustangs’ 45-yard field goal attempt to keep the Eagles’ deficit at four and their chances high.

“That was huge momentum,” Hafley said.

The Eagles subsequently took advantage, as Castellanos ripped passes to Jaedn Skeete for eight and 32 yards to set up a 15-yard rushing touchdown for himself to put BC back ahead with 12:22 left in the game.

Needing to score, SMU went for it on 4th-and-3, but John Pupel broke up Jennings’ pass attempt to give BC the ball at its 42-yard line. Kye Robichaux then broke free for a 40 yard run, and Castellanos followed with an electric, Lamar-Jackson style 14-yard run that was capped off with a lunge into the endzone to give BC a 23–14 advantage with 9:48 left in the game—a lead that the Mustangs wouldn’t cut into.

“We knew it was gonna be a challenge,” SMU head coach Rhett Lashlee said of Castellanos’ running ability. “And it was a challenge. We contained him well enough to win the game. But he made a lot of plays too.”

Neither team came out with much firepower. BC had success with a Castellanos 19-yard run that set up a 45-yard Liam Connor field goal to take a 3–0 lead with 6:27 left in the first quarter. But Connor missed his next attempt on the Eagles’ subsequent drive wide right. 

SMU, however, broke through with the first touchdown of the game early in the second quarter. The Mustangs strung together 15 plays for 78 yards that was capped off with LJ Johnson Jr.’s 1-yard rush to put SMU ahead 7–3.

But Hafley fully leaning into Castellanos’ rushing prowess worked instantly. The Eagles put together a drive that featured nine rushing plays, six from Castellanos, that concluded with Robichaux bullying his way for a six-yard score to put BC ahead 10–7 with 3:07 left in the second quarter. 

The Eagles defense couldn’t finish strong to end the half, though, as Jennings found Jaylen Knighton for a six-yard touchdown to give the Mustangs a 14–10 lead heading into halftime. Jennings was a problem all game, totalling 191 passing yards and 51 rushing yards. 

BC opened up the second half away from the run game, and it didn’t work. Castellanos tried forcing a pass to Alex Broom on a wheel route, but three SMU defenders surrounded the running back, and Castellanos was easily picked off.

But BC’s defense held the Mustangs scoreless the entire second half, and Hafley walked away with his first above .500 season since his first year with the program in 2020.

“We get to carry over that confidence and that feeling going into winter workouts, and I think that’s huge,” Hafley said. “Positive for recruiting, positive for these guys, and I think it’s big momentum.”

December 28, 2023