With less than a minute left in a game that ended at roughly one in the morning, Boston College football lined up on defense, clinging to a 3-point lead while its opponent made a last minute field goal attempt to tie the game. The kick dinged off the post and fell to the ground without a score, rendering the crowd in the Northern Illinois Huskies’ home stadium silent. But fans back in Chestnut Hill breathed a long-awaited sigh of relief.
The 2017 football season started with a nailbiter for the Eagles as they scraped by with a 23-20 victory over Northern Illinois University Friday night. Redshirt freshman Anthony Brown, selected by head coach Steve Addazio to start the game less than an hour before kickoff, largely dictated the game’s pace as he hit his passing stride late in the second quarter to give BC the lead it would ultimately maintain until the clock ran out.
Coming out of the gate, the Eagles’ relatively young squad had trouble finding their footing in a foreign stadium for their first game together, matching the pace of an NIU team whose capability on both offense and defense is objectively slower than BC’s. Behind Brown firing off long passes that just couldn’t seem to find their marks, basic mistakes led to NIU scoring the first points of the game off a field goal in the first quarter.
Junior kicker Colton Lichtenberg sent in a 40-yard field goal after a series of impressive carries by freshman AJ Dillon, tying the game at 3. When NIU answered with the game’s first touchdown off a 60-yard breakaway run at the start of the second quarter, it seemed as though the momentum on the field shifted irreversibly towards the Huskies.
But something in Anthony Brown woke up in the middle of the second quarter, gradually kicking the rest of the team into action. Brown executed a pass to Kobay White for a 20-yard gain on a play that led to a BC field goal, marking the last time the Eagles would trail for the rest of the game.
With the clock dwindling towards halftime, Addazio took advantage of his timeouts to slow the game and set up a play which fed the ball from Brown to Michael Walker for the Eagles’ first touchdown and first lead of the 2017 season with about a minute remaining in the half. Brown followed up with another touchdown pass to Ray Marten in the third to strengthen the lead to 20-10.
The high and low points of the game were closely related to Anthony Brown’s performance, which began skittish and grew more confident as time wore on. Having passed for only thirty yards by the middle of the second quarter, Brown improved to 119 yards passed before halftime.
Save a brief tie at 20 late in the fourth quarter brought on by a slight lapse in defense, the Eagles managed to hold onto a lead for the rest of the game despite a general decrease in tempo. While Boston College remains a team reliant on rigid defense, field goals created by an incessantly rushing NIU offense allowed the score to creep closer, almost erasing the breakthrough made behind Brown’s outstanding performance in the second and third quarters.
Colton Lichtenberg delivered on a late fourth quarter field goal to lift the Eagles over the Huskies for the final time, a 3-point advantage that was almost erased in the final seconds.
But through a miracle, a well-defended kick, or maybe simply a misstep on the kicker’s part, that final field goal failed to do its job, and Boston College took its place in the top half of college football, if only for one week.
Friday’s win gives BC a perfect record to start the season and improves the Eagles’ record against the Huskies to 3-0.
Addazio’s decision to start Brown at quarterback over veteran Darius Wade was likely validated Friday night as the newbie proved himself despite understandable first-game jitters. While the permanent position of starting quarterback may still be under review, Brown certainly made a case for himself in DeKalb, Illinois.
Next week, the Eagles return home to take on ACC rival Wake Forest in the 2017 home opener.