Wide Right at the Pinstripe

On December 28th, Eagles fans across the country woke up to a new day. Yes, the sun still rose, the skies beamed clear and blue. All felt right with the world. But turn on ESPN, and the nightmare continued.

“Snap, ball set, ball’s up, NO GOOD!”

The heart sinks like the confetti littering the field of Yankee Stadium. Not again. Please Lord, not again.

“Impossible!” Right? You assure yourself, rewinding the game tape, convinced your eyes told a cruel joke. Every replay, you catch yourself praying for a different ending. This time the ball splits the uprights. You whole-heartedly believe the game continues with an easy Mike Knoll PAT. Christian Hackenberg throws an ill-timed interception thanks to the jacked-up BC defense’s interior pressure against the deflated Penn State offensive line. The Nittany Lions fold under the bright lights of their first bowl game since the Jerry Sandusky NCAA exile of 2012. December 28th marks a day of celebration. It means BC football shattering the mold and ascending to national glory—that final, elusive, giant leap to a new era on the Heights.

Unfortunately, reality yells a definitive “No!” Once again, the wait for that triumphant day lasts another year. ESPN plays the unbearable: the oval-shaped pigskin sailing wide right. Not just wide right. Very far right! So far right that Scott Norwood considers buying a home in Buffalo again.

BC simply never stood a chance in the Pinstripe Bowl. Yankee Stadium looked like New Happy Valley from the get-go. A sea of blue and white drowned out any last semblance of the maroon and gold that littered the bleachers. The Penn State cult displayed perfect attendance, enduring the long trek from Pennsylvania after enduring a two-year bowl hiatus. Deafening chants of “We are! Penn State!” eerily rained down on the baseball diamond, eliminating any sort of neutral environment. Even up 21-7 late in the third quarter, no Eagles fan felt comfortable after witnessing late-game collapses against the likes of Colorado State, Louisville, Clemson, and Florida State.

Well-suited for the Big Apple, BC Football brought out its same old script, producing it under the bright lights of Yankee Stadium for the whole world to see. Like every other game, BC started off strong, dominating the trenches early. The Eagles created wide enough gaps through which freshman running back Jon Hilliman could simply walk. Hilliman ran for over 100 yards against a Penn State defense that ranked second nationally in run defense, including a 49-yard score that tied the game, 7-7.

Thanks to phenomenal game management, Tyler Murphy provided 14 unanswered points behind two touchdowns deep into the third quarter. Breaking the defensive standstill, BC had the ball in its court. All signs pointed to a blowout. Hackenberg finally looked human, even scared. Checkmate.

Then BC did what BC does best: beat themselves.

Christian Hackenberg, Penn State’s pretty boy quarterback who made NFL scouts salivate as a high-school sensation, finally lived up to the hype at the worst possible time. As if watching a Jon Gruden highlight reel at the Combine, Eagles fans stood in horror as the sophomore quarterback surgically dissected the Eagles' secondary, marching the Nittany Lions down the field at will. Multiple converted opportunities on third-down left the Eagles defense gasping for breath. A clumsy, tipped pass by a BC defender fell into the waiting arms of a Nittany Lion, cutting BC’s lead in half. Before anybody had a chance to check the USC-Nebraska score, Hackenberg already connected with DaeSean Hamilton, tying the game 21-21.

After trading field goals, the two teams entered overtime. BC struck first blood in a perfectly executed drive on PSU’s own 25-yard line. Tyler Murphy hit David Dudeck on a 21-yard pass, adding six points to break the tie.

Finally, a perfect fairy tale ending. Rising from the ashes of their blown lead, the Eagles had destiny written in the stars. Addazio gets win number eight, Tyler Murphy receives his due diligence as an elite college quarterback, and BC catches its long-awaited break… until it happens.

Shanked.

The crowd erupts, the broadcasters lost for words in disbelief of the atrocity unfolding before them. Mike Knoll ducks his head and runs off the field in shame. The missed extra point hands not only the ball, but the game, over to Penn State.

Game. Set. Match. A Kyle Carter 10-yard touchdown pass from whom other than game MVP Christian Hackenberg ties the game while Sam Ficken’s successful PAT puts the final nail into the Eagles’ coffin.

Twitter and Facebook erupted with Mike Knoll serving as the game’s scapegoat of another BC meltdown. Just another day at the office for BC as Penn State hoisted its first-ever Pinstripe Bowl trophy.

Most tweets and posts prove idiotic and stupid. Old high school soccer players moan and groan about how they make that kick ten out of ten times, despite never wearing a set of pads or feeling the pressure of a bowl game. Associate sports editors even proceed to post videos of their own PAT attempts to prove a valid point (Coach Addazio, message me at [email protected] if interested! I’ll accept any scholarship).

Yet, when you wake up on December 28th, remembering the 2014 Boston College Football team for eight failed PATs gets you nowhere fast. Instead, remember this team as the one that beat a top-ten USC team, making you proud to wear maroon and gold. Think of Addazio’s obsession with “dudes” and the blinding silver lining behind Jon Hilliman. This team got so far and worked so hard, despite feeling as if it never even mattered. They made you care about football again, inspiring the obsessive questioning of the “what ifs” every Sunday morning—the true mark of Fandom.

BC Football will have its day. But for now, Addazio roams the desert for forty more years, recruiting and waiting for the promised land to finally appear—not just the mirage of 2014.

At least we've got hockey and basketball.

Follow @BCGavelSports on Twitter for the latest updates on Boston College athletics.

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Mike Kotsopoulos