Saturday, August 31, 2013
BC flips script in 2nd half to win opener
By Jack McCluskey
NEWTON, Mass. -- It’s just one game. It’s just Week 1 of a 12-week season. So how much could a win in the opener really mean to Boston College and its new head coach, Steve Addazio?
The 24-14 win over FCS foe Villanova meant a lot more than 8.3 percent of the schedule.
It meant a goal the Eagles had set since they first started preparing for the season -- to win the opener -- had been accomplished. It meant that for the first time in what feels like a long time, the Eagles have a winning record.
They had lost the opener in each of the past two seasons, starting each season playing catch-up from the get-go.
They even started Saturday’s matchup that way, losing the opening coin toss before quickly falling behind 14-7 in the first quarter and ending the first half that way.
If ever a team needed to flip the script, it was these Eagles. And luckily for them, whatever was said in the newly renovated home locker room at Alumni Stadium worked.
Despite a sluggish first half, Steve Addazio's Eagles are 1-0 for the first time since 2010.
The proverbial coin landed in their favor from the third quarter on. And that led to an actual coin landing in Addazio’s possession after the game.
But before we get to the happy scrum on the field after the horn sounded, let’s go to the locker room at halftime.
“We had to make some adjustments at halftime on both sides of the ball,” Addazio said. “We had to shore some things up. We had far and away too many missed assignments on defense in the first half of the game, guys not in the right place. We had a good opening drive on offense and then they started really coming at us with a lot loaded in the box.”
The Eagles were outgained in the first half, 234 to 144. They allowed the Wildcats 160 rushing yards in the first two quarters, while managing only 45 yards of their own on the ground.
The Wildcats scored on a 47-yard fake punt, with Jamal Abdur-Rahman ducking as a BC player barreled by to chase a fake and then sprinting the other way to paydirt. And BC’s new defense was burned by dual-threat quarterback John Robertson for long runs and by his receivers for long runs after the catch.
It seemed like the Eagles finally had bottomed out when they produced a 2-10 record in 2012, their worst showing since the 1978 team went 0-11, and their coach was fired. But maybe, just maybe, the true bottoming-out moment was walking back into the locker room after 30 minutes of action trailing an FCS opponent at home.
“In the first half we just started off a little slow,” junior cornerback Manny Asprilla said. “When we went into the locker room before the second half we just, like, told each other to calm down and relax and we’ll get things rolling, we’ll get it together.
“So when we came out in the second half we had a mindset that we were just going to come out and play as hard as we could, and we did.”
Alex Amidon's 49-yard TD catch started BC's second-half rally.
The Eagles got the ball first to start the third quarter, and Chase Rettig and the offense made certain to make it count. The senior signal-caller moved the chains with short passes to running back David Dudeck and fullback Bobby Wolford, then used the threat of play-action to hit a big play.
With the Wildcats concerned about the run, wideout Alex Amidon got open behind the defense on a post pattern and Rettig hit him for a 49-yard TD that tied the game at 14. That swung the momentum, which had been favoring the visitors, back the Eagles’ way.
And after the defense forced the Wildcats to punt on their next two drives, Rettig and the offense put BC on top to stay. Wolford caught a short pass out of the backfield and found open field, running around the right side for 34 yards. And on the next play, Andre Williams hit an opening and rumbled down the right sideline for a 26-yard, game-winning TD.
Senior linebacker Kevin Pierre-Louis, who led all BC players with 10 tackles and added one of three BC sacks on the day, said the way the Eagles rallied to win meant a lot.
“It’s very encouraging,” he said. “To face a little adversity in the beginning and overcome that proves that we can do that game in and game out. Pretty much we just got that out of the way. Now it’s time to correct the mistakes, which is a lot easier to correct after a win, and then move on from there.”
To Asprilla, an Everett, Mass., product, the win meant a return to normalcy.
“I’ve already been here for two years; this is my third year here and we started off every year 0-1,” he said. “When I first got here I had never been 0-1 in my life, so now that we’re 1-0 in my third year it actually feels great. I’m not trying to have another 2-10 year, but it’s just the start.”
Asked what it meant to win his first game as coach of the Eagles, Addazio put the focus on his players.
“It was special for our kids,” he said. “I’ve been coaching a long time -- I just want to have some good moments happen for these players. They came off a very, very disappointing season. They haven’t had a ton of things to be excited about.
“They worked really hard. They had total belief in what we were doing. It was total buy-in. Never one time, did we ever, ever have anybody that gave anything less than 100 percent commitment, buy-in. All you do is you hope and you pray that that will result in some positive feedback.”
It took a while, but they finally got some in the second half.
The defense settled down and allowed Robertson & Co. to gain only 121 yards of offense in the second half. Don Brown’s bunch also forced three turnovers, including interceptions by Asprilla and Sean Sylvia and a fumble recovery by Kasim Edebali. Meanwhile, Rettig and the offense piled up 269 yards and scored 17 unanswered points.
While it was just Week 1 and they were facing Villanova, a potential top FCS team but not Clemson or Florida State by any stretch of the imagination, there were things to take away from the performance. The team showed a measure of resolve to battle back after the break. Players like Wolford (six catches for 84 yards and a TD) and Josh Keyes (forced fumble) made plays that suggest they could be important contributors this season.
Of course, that’s not to suggest the Eagles think Saturday’s performance was anywhere close to good enough going forward.
“Hey, we know what we’ve got ahead of us,” Addazio said. “No one here’s delusional. But we’re gonna take that start. And that’s really important. For me, what was special was I just watched our team sing the fight song and I just saw smiles on guys’ faces. And that’s what makes it all worthwhile.”
And in the postgame scrum on the Alumni Stadium turf, Addazio got something to take home with him, too.
The Eagles lost the opening coin flip, fell behind and then rallied to win. Afterward, referee Ron Cherry found Addazio in the mass of bodies and pressed something into his hand.
It was the ceremonial coin he used for the pregame toss, resting on a square of felt in a small plastic box.
“I really appreciated that,” Addazio said of the gesture, the memento from his first win as Eagles coach. “It meant a lot.”
Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter @jack_mccluskey.