Eagles Get Last Laugh in Rollercoaster ACC Opener

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With 13 mile per hour winds blowing north-northeast and Hurricane Florence just hours away from hitting the Carolinas, Boston College football stuck to the ground throughout the first quarter of its Thursday evening ACC opener against Wake Forest. In fact, the Eagles ran the ball 15 times in the opening frame.

At first, the one-dimensional offense worked like a charm, so much so that A.J. Dillon plowed his way to the end zone on just three carries to round out the game’s first series, a drive that spanned a mere 67 seconds. Everyone—fans, spectators, and analysts—had their eyes on the sophomore Heisman hopeful. Dillon wouldn’t win BC the game, though. That was up to Anthony Brown.

After the Demon Deacons decided to crowd the box, Dillon’s production took a hit. The Eagles punted the ball on five consecutive possessions and weren’t showing any signs of progress until Brown orchestrated a three-play touchdown drive at the beginning of the second quarter. He capped the series with a 27-yard pass to Jeff Smith. The ball was slightly overthrown, but that was understandable. The redshirt sophomore was just getting started.

Executing Scot Loeffler’s offense to near perfection, Brown tossed four more scores, ultimately finishing the back-and-forth affair with 304 yards and five touchdowns to his name. The Cliffwood, N.J. native’s precision fueled BC’s second-half push, setting the stage for a 41-34 victory—one that propelled the Eagles to their first 3-0 start to a season since 2007.

Wake Forest (2-1, 0-1 Atlantic Coast) won the coin toss and elected to defer. Immediately, BC (3-0, 1-0) made the Demon Deacons pay. Michael Walker returned the opening kickoff 44 yards, flirting with Wake Forest’s side of the field before the first play from scrimmage. Following two bruising carries, Dillon beat Demon Deacon defensive back Ja’Sir Taylor to the outside and sprinted toward the goal line. Taylor nicked Dillon’s heels, but the sophomore used the contact to his advantage, diving into the end zone for the highlight-reel, 45-yard score.

Dillon’s surefire success was short-lived. After piling up 62 yards on his first four rushing attempts, the ACC Preseason Player of the Year went backwards, recording -5 on his next four carries. Because BC was hardly throwing the ball in the first quarter, Wake Forest stacked the interior. As a result, Dillon often had nowhere to go.

After recording 52 yards on their first series, the Eagles totaled just 53 over the course of their next five drives—all of which ended in Grant Carlson punts. Luckily for BC, Sam Hartman and the Demon Deacons weren’t lighting up the scoreboard either.

Actually, the true freshman, volatile as ever, was picked off twice in the opening 17 minutes of play. First, Will Harris wrestled the ball out of Greg Dortch’s hands inside BC territory, stalling Wake Forest’s first series of the night. Then, five drives later, Hartman stared down Steven Claude on a button hook. Hamp Cheevers read the quarterback’s eyes from the minute he received the snap. The junior cornerback jumped the route and recorded his third takeaway of the season.

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The Demon Deacons were going to need a little help to etch their name in the scorecard. Ten minutes into the opening frame, they got just that. Dom Maggio—who had a superb day punting the ball—booted the rock downfield. Uncharacteristically, the ever-reliable Walker muffed the return. Without hesitation, Wake Forest running back Cade Carney flung his body on the loose ball, recovering the fumble at the BC 13-yard line.

Hartman capitalized: Donning the number 10, the true freshman channeled his predecessor—John Wolford—and scrambled outside the pocket for a gain of 11 yards. The very next play, he handed the ball off to Matt Colburn II for the game-tying touchdown.

Entering the second quarter, head coach Steve Addazio decided to open up the playbook, and soon enough BC was back on the move. Thanks to Dillon and a Demon Deacons facemask penalty, the Eagles quickly advanced the ball past midfield. From there, Brown took over. The redshirt sophomore dropped back on play-action and hurled a pass to a wide-open Jeff Smith, who dragged one foot into the back of the end zone before falling out of bounds. Despite being initially ruled an incomplete pass, the call was eventually overturned.

BC was on the brink of an offensive explosion—the only thing keeping Wake Forest in the game was the Eagles’ special teams. With about nine minutes remaining in the half, Carlson mishandled a high snap, scooped up the ball, and attempted a rugby-style punt. Unorthodox or not, he had no chance of avoiding a diving Will Drawdy. The redshirt freshman came flying in to block the punt, effectively deflecting the kick into BC’s end zone. Malik Grate made a beeline for the rolling ball, ultimately jumping on it for six. The sequence marked the third time in the past two games that the Eagles had a punt blocked and returned for a touchdown.

When Addazio arrived in Winston-Salem, N.C., he knew BC had a nailbiter coming its way. What he didn’t expect was his team getting steamrolled in the third phase of the game.

“The thing that we didn’t account for was the 14 points on special teams that we gave away—we just didn’t account for that,” the sixth-year Eagles coach told reporters following the game, per BCEagles.com. “On the road, that can undo you. But it didn’t, it didn’t.”

Initially, it looked like it might. On the ensuing Wake Forest series, Hartman strung together a pair of third and fourth-down conversions that ignited BB&T Field. Dropping an over-the-shoulder pass into the hands of a sideline-teetering Claude and then whipping a bullet through the outstretched hands of Cheevers for Sage Surratt, the true freshman was doing everything he could to take the lead. Moments later, he accomplished the feat by going back to Surratt in the end zone off a play-action pass.

Like he did all night, Brown answered when it mattered most. Just before the half, the second-year signal caller faked a handoff to Dillon and launched a pass down the left sideline for his favorite deep threat: Kobay White. The redshirt sophomore wideout came down with the catch, falling across the goal line in the process.

The touchdown drive lasted all of 73 seconds. Fortunately for BC, there were three more like it on the way.

In response to a Colburn II-led Wake Forest series—one that culminated in a 27-yard Nick Sciba field goal—Brown moved the sticks on a pair of crucial third downs before, once again, using the play fake to buy himself an exorbitant amount of time in the pocket and deliver a 29-yard touchdown pass to Tommy Sweeney.

Hartman and the Demon Deacons threatened, intermixing a handful of run-pass-option plays with draws, but a Taj-Amir Torres fourth-down stop in the back of the Eagles’ end zone kept the momentum on BC’s side. Shortly thereafter, a couple of nine-yard Dillon rushes paved the way for a 71-touchdown pass to Smith. The senior—who totaled 187 all-purpose yards on the night—motioned behind Brown, and then as soon as the ball was snapped, shot upfield to beat his man on the go route.

John Tessitore—filling in for an injured Colton Lichtenberg—shanked the extra point, and the Demon Deacons proceeded to tack on another field goal, but it wouldn’t matter. Brown put the finishing touches on his career night with a beautiful touch pass to Ben Glines down the right sideline. The redshirt junior made the mid-air adjustment, recorded the reception, and bullied his way into the end zone for his second career touchdown.

Along with the rest of the defensive line, Wyatt Ray, four sacks and all, wreaked havoc in the game’s final stages. BC allowed a garbage-time Wake Forest touchdown, but recovered the onside kick and ran out the clock. While it wasn’t always pretty, the Eagles got in and out of North Carolina with a win before Hurricane Florence rolled into the East Coast. That’s all Addazio could have asked for.

“The way this played out for us—we’ve got a little extra time for Purdue, and I just think this was a great way to get into the Power Five schedule,” he said emphatically.

In every regard, it was the perfect storm.

Featured Image by Woody Marshall / AP Photo

Photos by Woody Marshall / AP Photo

Andy Backstrom
About Andy Backstrom 317 Articles
Andy is the sports editor of The Heights. He is from the suburbs of Philly, but has been an Arizona Cardinals enthusiast since the first grade. Every so often, he'll replay Super Bowl XLIII on Madden to exact revenge on his father's beloved Steelers. You can follow him on Twitter @AndyHeights.