Boston College took on Virginia Tech in their season opener on Saturday afternoon. The Eagles came in as 4.5 point underdogs at home but played as if they were the favorites, trailing for less than four minutes throughout the game in their 35-28 win over the Hokies.
Alumni Stadium was packed to start the contest and the energy carried throughout the game. A big part of this was likely due to the referees' tendency to not call penalties on either side. While some of the calls were somewhat questionable, namely two late hits by BC players on Virginia Tech quarterback Ryan Willis, their willingness to let the players play allowed both teams to keep momentum and keep the vocal fans on both sides engaged.
The game began with two consecutive three-and-outs, but this would prove to be in stark contrast to the way the rest of the game was played. After Virginia Tech punted on their first possession of the game, BC’s offense kicked into gear, with freshman WR Zay Flowers playing the hero. Flowers kicked off the drive with a 16-yard run and capped it off by catching a perfectly-placed dime from Anthony Brown on the tightly-contested fly route.
“It’s always nice adding new cars to your garage,” said Brown, showing his appreciation for Flowers in the post-game press conference. “The kid is really, really talented… and for me, he did a great job today.”
Brown continued to show off his deep precision on the following drive. Rolling out to the right, Brown threw the ball across his body 56 yards downfield to hit Kobay White in stride and put them on the 14-yard line. Due to a false start shortly after, however, the Eagles settled for a 38-yard field goal attempt, which sailed wide left.
After coming close to taking a 14-0 lead, a sleeping giant woke up in the Virginia Tech offense, as the Hokies started to showcase their own offensive prowess. After starting the drive off slow, quarterback Ryan Willis connected with Hezekiah Grimsley for a 55-yard touchdown. With no secondary coverage in sight, Grimsley was nearly able to walk into the endzone to tie the game at seven points apiece.
Going into the second quarter of play, the Hokies came out strong again. After starting the drive off with a 25-yard pass to Kaleb Smith, Willis was able to march his team down the field, finishing off the 88-yard drive with a 20-yard pass to Tayvion Robinson. Robinson was hit as soon as he caught the ball at the two-yard line, but was able to extend his arms over the goal line for the score, giving the Hokies their first lead of the game.
The Hokies’ joy was short-lived, however, as Brown led the offense down the field again on the very next drive. It seemed as if it was going to be another three-and-out for the Eagles until Brown hit TE Hunter Long on third-and-long to extend the drive. From there, Brown made a series of short passes to gain yardage and put the Eagles into the red zone. From there, AJ Dillon ran the ball up the gut from the 17-yard line. It seemed as if he was going to be stopped again by the tough Virginia Tech line, but the Sauce spun out of the tackle, reversed field, and took it to the house to tie the game at 14-all.
After the proceeding kick, the Hokies only retained possession for one play before DB Tate Haynes came up with a strip-sack on the blitz, which resulted in a recovery by Marcus Valdez at the Hokies’ 17. Brown then capitalized on the short field. Lobbing the ball perfectly over the pylon, he allowed Kobay White to box-out the cornerback and make the catch to give BC a 21-14 lead.
Two short drives later, BC capitalized on a muffed punt by Grimsley to take possession at the 28-yard line. Brown would again make short work of this drive, turning on the afterburners to run it himself all the way to the endzone with 2:08 remaining in the half.
Determined to keep the game from getting out of hand, Ryan Willis took his game up to the next level, getting first downs on four consecutive plays to bring Virginia Tech to the BC 17. The Eagles’ defense could not seem to handle his unique combination of pocket presence and mobility, as he picked apart the Eagles’ young defense in the 58-yard drive. Just when it seemed as if BC was about to fold, the Hokies called four verticals play, despite BC's defense leaving the middle of the field open. Willis threw along the hash mark into the end zone but was picked off by Joe Sparacio, completely reversing momentum going into the half.
It looked like BC was going to run away with this game, as they had out-gained the Hokies in yardage 356-239 in the first half on only five more plays, but Head Coach Justin Fuentes was able to talk to his team in the locker room and send them back onto the field completely reinvigorated. The Hokies dominated on both sides of the ball in the third quarter, preventing BC from gaining a single offensive yard in the quarter on their three possessions, while also holding the ball for nearly 12 minutes.
Early on, Willis led the Hokies on another slow, methodical drive, capitalizing on coverage breakdowns without being afraid to use his legs to pick up some yards. The Eagles’ secondary looked gassed by the end of the drive, leaving James Mitchell wide open on his 10-yard post route into the endzone, bringing the score to 28-21 BC. Despite their dominance, this would be the only score for the Hokies in the quarter. The highlight of the quarter actually belongs to BC’s Brandon Sebastian, who was able to prevent a 30-yard touchdown with a leaping interception in the endzone, miraculously holding onto the ball as he took a hard hit mid-air.
The momentum evened out more in the final quarter of play. Tanner Karafa came up with a miraculous, over-the-shoulder, diving interception at the line of scrimmage that left Ryan Willis motionless, staring at the ball in disbelief well after the whistle had been blown.
Later in the quarter, BC’s backfield duo of A.J. Dillon and David Bailey were able to get what would later become the game-winning score. The two gained every yard accumulated by the team on the 56-yard drive, with Bailey punching it in from the one to get the fifth BC touchdown of the game.
Refusing to go down without a fight, Ryan Willis led the Hokies on yet another scoring drive. The drive seemed like it was over when, following a false start, Willis was marked short on a fourth-and-seven scramble, but upon review, was given the fourth down. Just two plays later, WR Kaleb Smith was able to make an incredible grab, diving out to his left in the endzone to cut the deficit to seven with 2:30 remaining.
After BC recovered the onside kick, Virginia Tech stuffed A.J. Dillon on two consecutive run plays and used their last two timeouts, giving BC a third-and-nine with 2:03 remaining. It appeared as if Willis would get another shot with a little over a minute to play, but Dillon iced the game by breaking off an 11-yard carry up the middle, allowing the Eagles to run out the clock.
After the game, Head Coach Steve Addazio was emphatic about the importance of winning this game, elevating it above past years’ openers.
“Winning the opener is extremely important. It validates your offseason work and it gives you positive momentum, but winning your opener against a high-quality football team? I think you get better from that,” said Addazio. “You can go out and win an opener against a team that… you’re stronger than, I don’t know [if]... that really helps you. For me, it’s a statement win because A) we’re 1-0, B) we got a conference win, and C) we got battle-tested out here against a really quality football team and a really, really quality defensive team.”
If Addazio is right, then this might be the momentum he needs to bring the team to the next level this year. If this game is as much of a litmus test as he believes, then the Eagles could be in for a very special season.
BC takes on Richmond at home next weekend at 3:30 p.m.