CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Less than five minutes into the first quarter of Boston College football’s game against Virginia, the Eagles were backed up deep in their own end zone. They had been there before.
Just three weeks prior, after being pinned down at the one-yard line, early in the first quarter, Jonathan Hilliman ran the ball up the gut. He was swarmed by a host of Central Michigan defenders, and then pushed back into the end zone for a safety. On Saturday, however, Hillman’s mentee—A.J. Dillon— got just enough to get the drive going—one that would last over five and a half minutes. The 15-play, 85-yard series may have only culminated in a field goal, but it served as an indication that this Eagles team is hardly the same as the one that started the season 2-4.
Following Colton Lichtenberg’s 30-yarder, BC rattled off three-consecutive touchdown drives. Up 24-0, midway through the second quarter, this one was practically over. The Eagles tacked on 17 more points in the final portion of play, to cap off a 31-point blowout—the largest margin of victory for BC against an ACC team in the Steve Addazio era.
Right from the get-go, Virginia (5-2, 2-1 Atlantic Coast) quarterback Kurt Benkert looked out of sync. The senior, who had thrown a trio of touchdowns in three of his past four games, only completed two of his first seven pass attempts for a grand total of -1 yards. Without a passing game, the Cavaliers’ offense was stagnant. UVA recorded a mere four first downs in the opening quarter and punted the ball three times. Despite horrible field position, the Eagles (4-4, 2-3) cashed in.
Two plays after Dillon gave his offense some breathing room, quarterback Anthony Brown evaded a sack, and scrambled for a gain of 15 and a first down. It was the first of the Eagles’ three third-down conversions on the drive. A few Hilliman runs and a nine-yard catch out the backfield moved BC to midfield. Then, off the play-action, Brown connected with tight end Tommy Sweeney for a 28-yard gain. Another short pass out to the flat, this time to Travis Levy, inched the Eagles into the red zone. Brown tried the same play on the next third down, but Levy was stopped in his tracks. As a result, BC settled for the field goal.
The Eagles’ next two drives were a lot less complicated.
From BC’s own 10-yard line, Hilliman plowed ahead for a four-yard gain to start the Eagles’ second series of the day. After that, Brown faked the ball to Jeff Smith on a jet sweep, and tried to hit Sweeney on the seam. The ball fell incomplete, but Scot Loeffler accomplished what he set out to do. A couple of plays later, after BC moved the sticks, the second-year offensive coordinator called for another jet sweep. But Brown didn’t fake this one. Thadd Smith took the ball and bounced out to the edge. He was gone. The 5-foot-9 all-purpose wide receiver broke a few ankle tackles and ran 76 yards to the house.
Two minutes and a few Benkert incompletions later, the Eagles ripped off another big play. Once again, it was a 76-yarder. Out of the empty set, Brown fired a screen pass to Kobay White. There were no defenders in front of the redshirt freshman, just a sea of green. White sprinted down the heart of the field for BC’s second touchdown of the game.
At the end of the first quarter, the box score looked just as lopsided as the actual score itself. The Eagles were outgaining UVA 256 to 52, and had recorded twice as many first downs as the Cavaliers.
The UVA defense didn’t fare any better in the second frame. On BC’s first drive of the quarter, Brown went to Michael Walker on back-to-back plays. The first was a simple third-down conversion in the middle of the field. But the second was a 46-yard flea flicker. The trickery set BC up for its third touchdown—a beautifully executed play-action pass to a wide-open Sweeney in the back corner of the end zone.
Eventually, Benkert found a rhythm. Halfway through the second quarter, the senior completed six passes in a row, gaining chunks at a time. Intermixed with a few Jordan Ellis runs, the Cavaliers offense was finally clicking. But neither Benkert or Ellis could get the ball in the end zone. Head coach Bronco Mendenhall left that up to Joe Reed. The wide receiver took Ellis’ spot in the backfield and leapt over the Eagles’ defensive line to make it a three-score game. The drive not only got the Cavaliers on the board, but it also milked more than seven minutes of clock. UVA went into the half on a high, but it didn’t last long.
BC began the second half much like it did the first. The Eagles strung together 10 plays before stalling in the red zone. Once again, Addazio turned to Lichtenberg for the chip shot, and the junior place kicker didn’t disappoint.
It wasn’t long until the Eagles were on the move again, especially after safety Will Harris blindsided Benkert on UVA’s ensuing possession. BC set up shop at its own eight-yard line and quickly went to work. Avoiding a three-and-out, Brown threw a bullet to White on a slant route for a first down. But it was Hillman who put the Eagles in scoring position. On a toss play, that was technically a forward pass, Hilliman ran 29 yards to the Cavaliers’ 35-yard line. Loeffler then called an array of run plays—including one through the tackles on 4th-and-1. But instead of punching the ball into the end zone, he went back to the play-action. Brown faked the handoff and threw his third touchdown pass of the game—a career best—to Sweeney.
Behind Ellis, UVA responded with a promising drive of its own. But the Cavaliers only came away with a field goal. By not going for it on fourth down, at the beginning of the fourth quarter, Mendenhall was all but admitting defeat. He officially threw in the towel when he pulled Benkert with nine and a half minutes to go.
Immediately, Benkert’s backup, Lindell Stone, threw an interception. His pass batted off the hands of Hasise Dubois and into the arms of linebacker John Lamot. The redshirt freshman ran the ball back 40 yards for a touchdown. On the next possession, Hamp Cheevers was one missed tackle away from another pick six.
BC stuck to the ground and eventually turned the ball over on downs. But that didn’t take away from the Eagles’ performance—one that accurately measures their significant improvement over the past few weeks.
“I think you can clearly, clearly see the growth, the potential, and the brightness of this [team’s] future,” Addazio said, following the victory.
On Saturday, BC successfully threw a wrench in UVA’s Homecoming Weekend, and derailed the Cavaliers’ quest for bowl eligibility. But, more importantly, the Eagles showed that last week’s win was no fluke. For the first time in program history, BC has scored 40-plus points in back-to-back ACC games. And for the first time in years, the Eagles are fun to watch.
Featured Image by Steve Helber / AP Photo