SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Seven minutes into Saturday’s regular season finale at Syracuse, Boston College running back A.J. Dillon had yet to touch the ball. One week removed from racking up 200 yards on the ground in just three quarters of play against Connecticut, the true freshman was nowhere to be found. Instead, Jonathan Hilliman shouldered the workload on the opening drive. Slowly, but surely, the Eagles marched down the field and approached the edge of the red zone. But after quarterback Darius Wade connected with Kobay White to move the chains on fourth down, head coach Steve Addazio decided that it was time to unleash the ACC’s second-leading rusher.
“When I was sitting back there, I was like, ‘I really want to jumpstart this game,’” Dillon said. “Coach [Addazio] had been talking about all week, ‘don’t wait on someone to make a play.’”
He certainly didn’t wait. One carry, and the true freshman was gone—22 yards to the house.
Dillon’s breakaway score was the first of BC’s six touchdowns on the day. For the third-straight game, he recorded more than 190 rushing yards and for the second time this season, he reached the end zone three or more times. But Dillon wasn’t the only one that filled the stat sheet. Wade logged a career-high 248 passing yards, and the entire team totaled a season-best 581 yards of offense. The Eagles ran away with a 42-14 victory, their first in the Carrier Dome since 2010.
The Eagles’ (7-5, 4-4 Atlantic Coast) first series of the game was methodical to say the least. On three separate occasions, Wade, who threw for more yards in the first quarter than he did all of last week, delivered big throws on third and fourth down to keep the drive alive. First, the graduate student hit White on a comeback route near the right sideline for a 20-yard gain. On the ensuing third down, he fit a pass into the arms of Michael Walker, who had Syracuse (4-8, 2-6) defenders on either side of his torso. Making up for a seven-yard loss on a double reverse and a chop blocking call, Wade then went back to Walker and White on consecutive plays for the first down. Dillon capped off the drive with his 22-yard touchdown run, fueling the offensive explosion that was to come.
It didn’t take long for Syracuse to answer. In just one minute and 58 seconds, the Orange scored a touchdown of its own, thanks to the wide receiver tandem of Ervin Phillips and Steve Ishmael. The two seniors combined for 56 of Syracuse’s 65 yards on the scoring drive—one that culminated in a 37-yard touchdown pass to Ishmael. As soon as he hauled in the reception, BC linebacker Ty Schwab missed the tackle, and the wideout turned on the burners.
Trading score for score, the Eagles countered with another electric series. On the second play, Dillon cut outside, spun past a couple of Orange defenders, and ripped off a 50-yard run. Hilliman inched BC toward the goal line, and then Dillon finished the job, carrying the ball in from eight yards out. The Eagles led, 14-7, but it looked as if they were in store for a shootout.
But it soon became apparent that Syracuse quarterback Rex Culpepper’s first drive was a fluke of sorts. Although the redshirt freshman was quite successful pinpointing the soft spots in BC’s zone, he struggled to finish drives. The Orange failed to get on the board, following Dillon’s second touchdown, and was forced to punt the ball away.
Three plays later, Jeff Smith took a jet sweep 64 yards to the end zone, hushing the crowd. And it was about to get even quieter.
Desperate to stop the bleeding, Culpepper targeted Jamal Custis on a wide receiver screen pass in his own territory. But since he threw the ball behind the line of the scrimmage, it was really a lateral. Hamp Cheevers broke up the pass, essentially forcing a fumble. Without hesitation, Will Harris scooped up the ball and returned it 30 yards for six.
All of a sudden, a one-score game was a three-score blow out, and Syracuse was scrambling just to stay on its feet. Fortunately for head coach Dino Babers, Culpepper pulled together a quick-hitting touchdown drive to keep his team afloat. After completing back-to-back passes to Ishmael, including a 44-yard bomb down the left sideline, the redshirt freshman connected with Phillips in the back of the end zone for a 17-yard score.
Before the half, both teams turned the ball over, but neither one could turn its takeaways into points. Syracuse got one more shot to cut its deficit, prior to the break. Starting from his own 26-yard line, Culpepper made quick work of the Eagles’ defense. Three-straight completions, and the Orange was approaching the BC 30-yard line. With five seconds left, Babers sent Cole Murphy out to try a 50-yard field goal. Addazio called two timeouts to ice the senior. Apparently, it worked. Murphy’s kick veered wide left, and Syracuse entered the half down for the second-consecutive game.
And the Orange wasn’t coming back anytime soon.
Walker returned the second-half kickoff 31 yards. And from that point forward, there was no stopping BC. Intermixing hard-nosed football with the play-action fake, Wade orchestrated a vintage Eagles scoring drive. The graduate student dialed up a pair of passes to his favorite target, tight end Tommy Sweeney. Shortly after that, he threw a bullet to a cutting Jeff Smith for 20 more yards. Back in the red zone, Wade completed a pass to Chris Garrison, who nearly bullied his way in for a score. But, per usual, it was Dillon who tacked on the points—this time, all but walking in for a one-yard touchdown.
Down three scores at the tail end of the third quarter, Syracuse needed a touchdown to stay in the game. It came pretty darn close. Riding running back Moe Neal and a couple timely Culpepper completions, the Orange drove the ball down to the BC 5-yard line. But then Syracuse stalled. On 4th-and-1, the Eagles’ defensive line stuffed fullback Chris Elmore at the line of scrimmage.
Naturally, BC turned around and scored. Dillon started the series off with a bruising 34-yard run. Once the Eagles hit midfield, Wade found Travis Levy out of the backfield on a swing pass. The true freshman sliced and diced, juking a handful of defenders on his way to a 46-yard touchdown catch and run.
With the result all but assured, Addazio did everything he could to drain the clock, even electing to run on a pair of fourth downs—the team’s fourth and fifth fourth-down conversion attempts of the day. But as soon as the game ended, the fifth-year man turned to his team’s bowl stakes.
“We’re a hot football team,” Addazio said. “We’re an attractive football team. And we’re playing at a high level. We have some star players, and I’m hoping that we have a great opportunity.”
The victory marks the third time this season that BC has scored over 40 points, something it only did once in its first 96 ACC games. After starting 2-4, the Eagles have won five of their last six games and now have a chance to win their eighth of the season, not to mention their second-straight bowl. A couple of months ago, some wondered if BC would win a single ACC contest. It’s safe to say that the script has flipped.
Featured Image by Michael Dwyer / AP Photo