This Saturday’s matchup against Northern Illinois University (NIU) was supposed to be an easy coast to victory, but injuries and inexperience made this game a close call for the Eagles. Both teams had a 2-1 record, but BC’s stellar defense stacked the odds against NIU. Having won its past 21 matches against MAC opponents, BC was determined to keep the streak going.
In the first quarter, offense lagged for both teams. NIU was completely shut down by the Eagles’ defense, without a single first down, but BC's scoring attempts were stymied by a surprisingly strong NIU defense. The first half as a whole was sloppy for the Eagles' offense. Redshirt freshman Troy Flutie threw an interception that led to NIUs first touchdown, and true freshman Jeff Smith fumbled the ball without any pressure, although he was able to recover for a loss of yards.
In the second half, the Eagles seemed to have more control - until the fourth quarter, however, when NIU scored on an 86 yard kickoff return. Suddenly, a 17-7 lead was cut down to a difference of three with time running low for both teams. BC was able to ultimately hold off the Huskies, but the game was much too close for comfort. There were three important factors in this outcome: the quarterbacks, the rushing game, and the defense.
This was the first game of the season without Darius Wade. Up until a few minutes before the kickoff, nobody seemed to know who would play at quarterback—Smith or Flutie. As play started, it became apparent that Head Coach Steve Addazio would be switching back and forth between the two, although Flutie started.
“We just knew we were going to play them both. It came with what it came with. At that position, it’s hard. I’m going to come in tomorrow morning and we’re going to look at everything. We’re going to really evaluate it hard," said Addazio following the game. "I’m encouraged. There were some good things and some bad things by both guys. Nothing hit me in the face, I guess all the options are really on the table right now. We’re trying to do the best we can to let each guy mature, that’s all we’re trying to do.”
Addazio definitely believes that a lack of experience contributed to the difficult adjustment for Flutie and Smith. However, the two players commented that they were both prepared for today. “I’ve heard it ever since I started playing, so I just practice every day like I’m the starting quarterback. You just have to always be ready to run the team as the quarterback” said Smith. “I think I need to sit there in the pocket for a long period of time, because I’m quick to go off after my first or second read isn’t there,” said Smith of his biggest challenges.
“I’ve played football for a while now, so it’s just another game. There are a lot bigger guys out there who are faster, but it’s still just another game. I just went out there and did my best and tried to play hard,” said Flutie.
Following an underwhelming start to the season, sophomore running back John Hilliman is also back to his old self. After lackluster performances in the past three games, Hillman exploded. He scored the opening touchdown and was a key component for the drives that led to the two other scoring plays. He also was able to stave off a touchdown when the Huskies ran for 84 yards.
Addazio believes talking with Hillman about how he should be playing and living up to his potential may have affected his performance today. “I challenged them. I feel like we have really good running backs. I didn’t feel like we were anywhere near our potential, I didn’t like what I saw - at all. I liked what I saw today. That’s our running backs right there. We grow off of that. We have to play like that week in and week out. It’s a tough, physical game.”
The Eagles’ defense was also a huge factor in todays win; this team is built around its top ranked defense and yesterday’s game was exemplary of BC’s defensive prowess. It forced turnovers, frequently held the Huskies well past the 50-yard line, and even kept them from attaining a first down throughout the entire first quarter.
Junior defensive back John Johnson forced a fumble with a huge hit in the first and had an interception in the third. William Harris knocked another NIU player, forcing another fumble. The defense carried the team. “You’re constantly in your mind saying to yourself: you’ve got a strong defense, play your defense and don’t turn the ball over. It’s trying to play to the strengths that you have,” said Addazio.
With yesterday's victory, the Eagles improve to 3-1 on the season and have now held five straight opponents to under 10 points in the first half. This game was the first step in the Eagles pulling themselves together after the loss of Darius Wade. Although the game was shaky, with some time, the offense will adjust.
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