Saturday, September 7, 2013
Eagles D stands strong, stuffs Wake
By Jack McCluskey
NEWTON, Mass. -- It was a pivotal moment.
The Eagles were pinned deep in their own territory after Wake Forest nose guard Nikita Whitlock blocked a Nate Freese punt and Brandon Chubb recovered the ball at the BC 3-yard line with 52 seconds to go in the half.
The Eagles had built a 17-7 lead, mostly by taking advantage of Wake Forest's mistakes. Now the defense had to keep Tanner Price & Co. out of the end zone and hold them to three points to try to regain some of the momentum that they’d built earlier in the evening.
As Wake Forest lined up, the noise level in Alumni Stadium built up higher and higher.
Don Brown’s defense stopped Josh Harris at the 1 on first down, then stood him up for no gain on second down. On third down, Price looked to pass and had a wideout open in the back of the end zone but wasn’t able to get it to him, skipping it in as Kasim Edebali came flying at him in the backfield.
That made it fourth-and-goal from the 1, and Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe had a decision to make. Take the field goal and make it a one-score game, or go for the touchdown. He decided to go for the end zone.
BC stacked the line of scrimmage and dug in. The fans got loud. And while Wake Forest had been full of tricks all night, there were none coming on this play. Price handed it off to Harris, who tried to stuff it up the middle. But Mehdi Abdesmad met him in the backfield and slowed him down enough for his teammates to join in and stand him up for no gain.
The Eagles took over on downs, preserved the lead and took back momentum for the second half.
“I was proud of the way our defense played,” BC head coach Steve Addazio said after the 24-10 win. “They held that unbelievable goal-line stand, which was really incredibly important for us, obviously. Played real strong all night.”
BC captain Kasim Edebali (91) tackles Wake Forest quarterback Tanner Price.
Edebali said the pumped-up crowd, announced at 32,465, helped fuel the defense for that critical series.
“It was amazing,” the fifth-year senior captain said. “It was a Friday night game, and the student section was wild. I think the energy that was going on in the stadium went over us. We were creating energy the whole game, we played really tough and physical. And then got after them.
“We executed a little bit better on the goal line. We took a lot of energy and momentum that was created throughout the whole game [and used it] on that goal-line stand.”
No one-trick birds of prey, the Eagles made another goal-line stand later in the game, holding the Demon Deacons to a field goal after they had first-and-goal from the BC 4 in the fourth quarter.
But it was that first stand that was most crucial.
“When we blocked the punt at the end of the half, we’ve got to get that in,” Grobe told reporters after the game. “We’ve got to have a better mentality when we’re down there -- and that’s us as coaches, that’s not the kids. We’ve just got to do the things that we need to do down in the red zone, especially short-yardage stuff.”
For the game, the Eagles held the Demon Deacons to just 246 yards of total offense and 10 points. They forced three turnovers (though Price helped, with two of them coming on fumbles from wayward pitches) and produced two sacks (allowing them to tie their season total of six from 2012 in the first two weeks of 2013).
“Our plan to win starts with playing great defense,” Addazio said. “You want to win, you want to build your program, you’ve gotta play great defense. You’ve gotta play great defense and you’ve gotta have a run game.”
The Eagles did that, too, on Friday night. Senior tailback Andre Williams had a career-high 204 yards rushing on 35 carries.
“You play great defense when you complement your defense,” Addazio said. “One of the good things I think that we’re doing, people say ‘Oh, you run the ball.’ Don Brown’s sitting there at the end of the game saying, ‘I love what we do.’ Because our offense complements your defense.”
With the win, BC starts the season 2-0 for the first time since 2010, when the Eagles opened with wins over Weber State and Kent State. It’s also the first time the Eagles have won their ACC opener since 2007, when they beat Wake Forest to open the season.
While they’ll celebrate the win this weekend, the Eagles aren’t close to overconfident. They know it’s early. They know they have a stiff test awaiting them next week, when they fly to Southern California to take on No. 25 USC.
“I’m proud of the fact of where we are,” Addazio said. “We’re 2-0 and that’s great. That’s great. We’re fighting, we’re scratching, we’re clawing. And that’s fantastic, but we’ve got a lot of work to do.”
But after matching their win total from 2012 in the first two weeks of the 2013 season, fighting through adversity to come out on top in both weeks, the Eagles seem to be taking on the personality of their new coaching staff, led by Addazio. They’re fighting hard.
And that can only be a good sign for the rest of the season, when the level of play and caliber of opponent picks up.
“I thought the resounding thing here was that we played hard, we played physical, we played like a team,” Addazio said. “When one was down, the other was up. We complemented each other. Our kids had great resilience and great will, which I think is critically important. As important as anything right now.”
In the pivotal moments of this young season, Addazio’s Eagles have passed their tests with flying colors.
Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter @jack_mccluskey.