A peak performance
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- We can only imagine how enjoyable that flight home was for the Boston College party.
Seldom does it all come together for an athletic team the way it did for BC at Milan Puskar -- aw, heck, Mountaineer Field -- yesterday. Anyway, after that performance, the Puskar heirs might consider throwing a few stray million BC's way. Assuming they are connoisseurs of excellence, that is.
None of that "winning ugly" stuff this time. Boston College instead executed a magnificent two-way game plan and augmented it with an off-the-charts special teams performance. The result was a convincing 36-17 victory over West Virginia, a BC nemesis, especially in this stadium, where the Eagles had won only once (1990) since it opened in 1980.
"They believed they could win it," said BC coach Tom O'Brien, whose team has injected itself into the Bowl Championship Series business. "That was very important."
You know that old saw about there being "lies, damned lies, and statistics"? There may not have been another Division 1-A game this season in which the usual final stat indicators were such blatant prevaricators.
West Virginia had 462 yards in total offense to BC's 243. West Virginia ran off 21 more plays (87-66). The Mountaineers had more first downs (21-14) and led in time of possession (34:17-25:43).
But BC led in punts returned for touchdowns (2-0), field goals (3-1), overall return yardage (230-154), turnovers created by freshman safeties ripping the football out of the hands of kickoff returners (1-0), punts in excess of 75 yards (1-0), breathtaking kick returns by renegade freshman linebackers (1-0), game-opening drives to take the crowd right out of the game (1-0), smart reads by the starting quarterback (innumerable), even smarter reads by key defensive players (calculator needed), and, finally, snot-inducing hits (a season's supply).
They also led in Fiesta Bowl executives dishing out superlatives (1-0).
"The way BC played today," gushed Dick Stemple, a member of the Fiesta Bowl's board of directors, "that was a piece of art, that first drive."
Don't stop there, Mr. Stemple. There were many other moments of BC fan rapture. DeJuan Tribble and Will Blackmon each ran back a punt for a touchdown. Freshman kicker Ryan Ohliger, who has had his shaky moments, drilled field goals of 44, 47, and 36 yards in the very stadium where he was once both a Mountaineer fanatic and the proud kid brother of a West Virginia kicker. (As has been the case in Boston sports for the last six weeks or so, you can't make this stuff up.) Freshman punter Johnny Ayers averaged 49.1 yards in seven tries, in part thanks to a mammoth 76-yarder in the third quarter. Andre Callender, another freshman, had a key 10-yard reversed-field, drive-extending run during which he must have covered in excess of 30 yards. Freshman linebacker Brian Toal had a juke-filled 43-yard kickoff return to set up a fourth-quarter field goal.
The defense, meanwhile, may have given up all those yards, but it did so while doing exactly what it set out to do, which was prevent scary West Virginia quarterback Rasheed Marshall from beating it the way he had eight previous Mountaineer opponents -- with his multimillion-dollar legs. All of his big plays were made while coming from far, far behind.
West Virginia does present multiple offensive problems. Marshall, who came into the game with 17 TD passes, is also the all-time Big East quarterback rushing leader. Tailback Kay-Jay Harris is a punishing back. Wide receiver Chris Henry is a Moss-like target at 6 feet 5 inches.
"You're not going to keep them from doing stuff," said BC defensive coordinator Frank Spaziani. "Marshall, Harris, and Henry are all tough. But we made plays. When ability's equal, it's what you have between the ears."
BC was ready for this one, pure and simple. "Usually, the day before the game the captains speak to us," explained Blackmon. "Yesterday [defensive tackle] Tim Bulman said, `Don't be afraid to be good.' We came here really ready to play. That was the main thing. We really had everyone's attention today."
BC took charge immediately. West Virginia won the toss and elected to defer. I'm told this is the new standard collegiate M.O. But the idea is to get the kickoff farther than the opponents' 19. Blackmon took it to the West Virginia 47, and eight plays later quarterback Paul Peterson (18 for 30, 162 yards, two touchdowns) had BC in the end zone via a 10-yard pass reception/run by L.V. Whitworth, who, by the way, gave BC a valuable running presence with 84 yards on 18 carries. We hadn't even played three minutes.
One exchange later, things fell apart for the home side. A West Virginia personal foul during a BC punt return resulted in a rekick, and damned if Tribble didn't take the second punt 41 yards down the right sideline for a score. It was now 14-0 before the game was 10 minutes old. It never really got a whole lot better for the favored Mountaineers, whose coach, Rich Rodriguez, couldn't believe his team's wretched field position. "Every time we started, it seemed we had to go 90 yards," he fumed.
Oh, that deferral? On the second-half kickoff, BC freshman safety Jose Silva actually ripped the ball out of Vaughan Rivers's arms, turning the ball over to BC at the West Virginia 22. Ohliger wound up booting a career-high 47-yarder, breaking his hour-old longest of 44. That made it 27-7. Over and out.
BC had to be good during the second half to defeat Notre Dame on the road, but this time BC was a 60-minute machine. "This was our most complete game," said Mathias Kiwanuka, BC's superb defensive end. "But I really wasn't surprised. The only thing that surprised me were the two special teams scores. You can't count on them either way."
"There was no pressure on us [the offense] today," said Peterson. "The special teams made it easy for us, and the defense got us the ball back. That's the way it's supposed to work. It enabled us to relax a little bit and play our game."
The cherry-on-the-sundae moment came after a Brad Cooper 25-yard field goal pulled the Mountaineers within 10 (27-17) with 11:04 left. The ensuing line drive kickoff went to Toal, the blue chip linebacker who had scored 37 scholastic touchdowns as a running back. He took it 43 yards to the West Virginia 37, eluding and running over some folks.
"He said he thought he should have taken it to the house," said Ohliger.
"Did he take off!" smiled O'Brien. "Wow."
But it was that kind of a BC day.
"I said I wasn't leaving here without a victory," said Blackmon.
Generations of BC players have said the same thing. This group backed up the rhetoric.
Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.