Commentary

A painful lesson for BC Eagles

Missed opportunity leaves kicker Nate Freese, teammates at a loss

Updated: September 18, 2011, 2:04 PM ET
By Jack McCluskey | Special to ESPNBoston.com

NEWTON, Mass. -- For the third straight time, the result was the same. But this one had to hurt more than the previous two.

Trailing 20-19 with 43 seconds left and the ball on the 5-yard line on fourth down, the Eagles were seemingly set up to steal a victory from visiting Duke. All they needed was for Nate Freese to make a 23-yard field goal.

The snap was true, the hold was good and the kick ... hit the left upright and bounced harmlessly away in the north end zone. It was the second Freese kick that found an upright; he bounced a ball off the right upright in the south end zone on an extra-point attempt.

[+] EnlargeNate Freese
Stew Milne/US Presswire"I was trying to get the ball up, I did that but I caught it off the inside of my foot a little bit, just brought it left," said Nate Freese of his missed 23-yard field goal with 49 seconds left.

As the Blue Devils celebrated their survival, their first win of the season just a kneel-down away, the Eagles were left to console their normally steady sophomore kicker and wonder how in the world they'll pick up the pieces now. The loss means the Eagles are 0-3 for the first time since 1991, when they went 4-7 under Tom Coughlin.

Freese also missed two field goals in the season opener against Northwestern, a 24-17 loss. After that loss, his teammates talked about their belief in him while coach Frank Spaziani stressed a need to remember the basics.

As Freese stood in the wings, waiting to address the media postgame Saturday, Luke Kuechly was asked about the kicker. The normally free-speaking linebacker was succinct.

"Did you see Nate after the game?" a reporter asked.

"Yeah," Kuechly said.

"Did you talk to him at all?"

"Yeah."

"Want to share what you said to him?"

"That's between me and Nate, man," Kuechly said. "I would trust Nate on any kick, man. He's probably one of my best friends. And I trust Nate on any kick, man, no matter what the situation is he's gonna put it through a great percent of the time. If it's out there again I'm gonna let him kick it again."

With that, Kuechly's interview ended. On his way out, he stopped to say something to Freese -- again, keeping it private.

Freese sat at the dais while Eagles DB Jim Noel answered two quick questions, everyone clearly waiting to hear from the kicker. When Noel left, the questions began.

What happened on the last kick?

"I was trying to get the ball up, I did that but I caught it off the inside of my foot a little bit, just brought it left," Freese said. "Ended up hitting the upright."

How hard is it to move on from something like this?

"Every loss is tough but you just gotta play the next play," Freese said. "Come out tomorrow and get back to basics and then come out next week and get a win."

[+] EnlargeChase Rettig
Stew Milne/US PresswireBC quarterback Chase Rettig runs against the Duke Blue Devils during the second quarter at Alumni Stadium on Saturday.

Would you have preferred to have the ball in the middle of the field?

"No. They got it where they needed to. The offense did a great job there at the end getting ..." he paused, cleared his throat and continued, "... me and my field goal unit a good opportunity. I'm very proud of the offense for what they did at the end there."

Stymied for most of the second half, the BC offense used eight plays and a roughing-the-passer penalty to set up the chance at the game winner. But the comeback wasn't to be.

Instead, the Eagles lost because Sean Renfree and the Duke offense dinked and dunked the BC defense to death, picking up small chunk of yardage after small chunk of yardage and occasionally hitting a big play.

Coming into the game, Renfree hadn't thrown a touchdown pass this season; against the Eagles, he threw two. Both were to Conner Vernon, one for 53 yards -- that one made possible when Sean Sylvia and Dominique Williams collided while trying to play the ball -- and one for 21 yards.

Duke's special teams weren't perfect, either, with a missed field goal and a failed two-point conversion, but in the end it didn't matter.

Renfree finished 40-for-52 for 359 yards. He also added a score on the ground, diving over his offensive line from the half-yard line in the fourth quarter to give Duke what would turn out to be the winning margin.

"I feel for [Freese]," Renfree told reporters after the game. "We have gone through the same thing. The first game, we had the same: with a minute left, we missed a field goal and lost the game. It's a tough situation, but that's the way football games go sometimes. Sometimes you make the game winner and sometimes you don't."

When he spoke to Freese after the game, Spaziani used a baseball reference from his favorite team, the Yankees.

"I told him what Mo Rivera says, 'If you are going to be successful in sports, you have to have a short memory,'" he said.

"The reality is I missed the kick," Freese said, when asked about the support he received from Kuechly & Co. after the miss. "But when they come up to me it reassures that they're behind me 100 percent and I feel good that pretty much everyone came over and said, 'Tough loss, but we know you can do it,' so ..."

Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com.

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