For a defensive line that was hyped up as one of the best in the country, Boston College football’s pass rushers were uncharacteristically quiet during Friday night’s season opener at Northern Illinois—until it mattered most.
At first, it looked as if the entire defense was crumbling late in the fourth quarter. The front seven, headlined by sack king Harold Landry, was without a sack on the evening, and the secondary showed signs of tiring. With two minutes remaining and the Eagles clinging to a field-goal lead, quarterback Ryan Graham converted on fourth-and-seven in BC territory to keep the game alive for the Huskies. For the Eagles, it invoked dreadful memories of their 2016 opener, when a defensive breakdown on fourth-and-19 cost the team a win in Dublin.
But this time, BC caught a rare break in the kicking game. NIU’s game-tying field goal came up just short after senior defensive end Zach Allen appeared to get a fingertip on it, and BC (1-0) escaped Dekalb, Ill., with a thrilling 23-20 victory in the season opener.
In the first quarter, BC caught a classic case of opening-night jitters.
Anthony Brown, the dual-threat quarterback pegged by many as the future, came out firing early in head coach Steve Addazio’s new “up-tempo” offense. His first career pass attempt was a 40-yard beauty downfield, but it slipped through the hands of Michael Walker.
On the next drive, Brown threw a dart behind tight end Tommy Sweeney and Kyle Hugh capitalized on the mistake with a diving interception. A sloppy roughing the passer penalty on Will Harris spoiled a potential three-and-out on the ensuing drive, allowing the Huskies (0-1) into field goal range, where they booted a 32-yard field goal and took a 3-0 lead. Soon after, Brown and center Jon Baker miscommunicated on a key third down, resulting in an errant snap and a huge loss.
The Eagles tied the game at 3-3 when a poor punt gifted them the ball in Husky territory. True freshman running back A.J. Dillon rumbled for a combined 10 yards on three bruising runs to start the series. That put BC at the edge of field goal range, where BC has often opted to go for it on fourth instead of kicking in recent years. But this year, Addazio put faith in senior Colton Lichtenberg, who drew praise for his improvement this offseason, and he delivered with second longest field goal of his career from 42 yards out.
On his last two drives of the half, Brown finally settled in under center. The redshirt freshman marched the offense down the field, finding Jeff Smith for an 11-yard gain before moving the chains with a third-down run a few plays later. Then, Brown connected with his favorite springtime target and fellow redshirt freshman Kobay White for a 20-yard completion to set another Lichtenberg field goal.
Some uncharacteristically aggressive timeout usage by head coach Steve Addazio gave the Eagles the ball back with a minute and a half remaining in the second quarter. His young signal caller took advantage, linking up twice each with his two favorite receivers, Walker and White, as BC claimed a 13-10 lead heading into half behind a minute-long, 50-yard touchdown drive. On the last two series alone, Brown completed 9-of-10 passing for 89 yards and a touchdown.
And he showed few signs of cooling off in the third quarter. After the defense forced consecutive three-and-outs to begin the second half, Brown led the offense on an eight-play, 65-yard touchdown drive, capped off by Ray Marten’s first career touchdown reception. It was also the sophomore’s first career catch, and it gave the Eagles a 20-10 lead. But then they got comfortable.
Graham and the Huskies capped off a 13-play, five-minute drive with a touchdown late in the third quarter. Then they answered again thanks to a huge 46-yard catch and run by Chad Beebe, which produced a chip shot field goal and tie the game at 20-20. All of a sudden, the future wasn’t so far away anymore. Brown, just the second BC freshman to start at quarterback, would have to lead a game-winning drive in his first career collegiate game.
It certainly didn’t begin well. Hilliman was stuffed for a one-yard gain, and Brown took his second sack of the night to set up a tough 3rd and 18 with six minutes left. But the former three-star recruit exhibited his playmaking skills, finding Korab Idrizi for a 17-yard gain and then pushing behind his linemen for a risky fourth-down conversion. A few plays later, Addazio faced another fourth down, and this time, he needed four yards for the first.
Luckily, in the clutch, Brown could do no wrong. White ran a comeback route to perfection and the St. John Vianney product delivered a strike right on the money for a 14-yard gain to NIU’s 24-yard line. In total, his 26-for-42 passing numbers are the most a BC quarterback has recorded under Addazio. As the clock winded down under two minutes, Brown picked up a yard on the ground and three more through the air. That was all Lichtenberg needed for his third field goal of the night, a 32-yarder, which proved to be the game-winner.
Featured Image by Amelie Trieu / Heights Editor