BC 27, PENN STATE 14
Eagles deliver quarter pounding
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- So how do you suppose this final score -- Boston College 27, Penn State 14 -- registered in Storrs, Conn.? A sense of dread, chased with a couple of hard gulps, perhaps? It no doubt had many people in Huskyland -- as it did folks in Happy Valley -- scratching their heads about BC's football team.
After suffering a season-opening 32-28 setback against Wake Forest last week at Alumni Stadium, one rife with errors, the Eagles yesterday did a complete turnaround.
Playing before a Beaver Stadium crowd of 106,445, BC triumphed with a fast-and-furious start by the offense and a stalwart effort from a defense that rang up five sacks. All of which helped avert the first 0-2 start in Tom O'Brien's tenure at The Heights.
"We were very focused," said O'Brien, whose Eagles (1-1) face the University of Connecticut in new Rentschler Field in East Hartford. "We were intense in all of the meetings, we practiced much better, and there was a sense of urgency. We grew up a lot in a week."
More important, there were no mental errors, no costly turnovers, and no critical defensive breakdowns. Those were the sins of a week ago, but the Eagles were absolved by the victory, BC's third in 22 meetings against the Nittany Lions and second straight, following a 35-32 decision in the last meeting in 1992.
"We'll go into the rest of the season knowing we came into Happy Valley and we beat 'em up," said BC junior quarterback Quinton Porter, who completed 10 of 21 passes for 145 yards and connected with Grant Adams for an 18-yard touchdown and Framingham's Tony Gonzalez on a 37-yard TD strike -- both in a 21-point first-quarter eruption. "Any questions about our offense were answered this week and we know that."
That much was evident after the Eagles exposed the holes in Penn State's three-deep coverage. BC scored on its first three possessions to build a 21-0 lead just 7 minutes 10 seconds into the game.
"I think in all fairness, you have got to give BC some credit," said Penn State's legendary Joe Paterno, in his 38th season as head coach. "They played a hard game. They jumped on us real early. They were sharp. We went out flat early and we just couldn't recover."
Just as he did last week, Porter led the Eagles to a score on their opening drive, capping an 80-yard, eight-play march with a perfectly thrown strike to Adams that made it 7-0 with 12:51 left in the quarter. BC's defense, which held Penn State to 318 yards total offense (and 34 in the first quarter), was impressive in its first series, too, producing a three-and-out that enabled the Eagles to take possession at their own 44.
One play after he converted a huge third and 9 with a 16-yard scramble to the Penn State 39, Porter made it 14-0 when he found Gonzalez streaking toward the end zone on a seam route. "It was exactly like we drew it up," Porter said. "It was exactly how we prepared for them."
Penn State was left reeling on its next series when senior defensive tackle Tom Martin poached a lazy lob by Lions quarterback Zack Mills (15 of 28, 144 yards) and returned it 25 yards to the Nittany Lions 1. In the game to relieve senior starter Derrick Knight, Penn State transfer Horace Dodd made his former teammates pay when he tallied a 1-yard TD to make it 21-0 with 7:50 left in the first quarter.
By the time the quarter had reached its merciful conclusion, BC had rolled up 206 of its 383 yards of total offense and scored 21 of its 27 points, the other 6 points coming on field goals of 31 and 30 yards by Sandro Sciortino.
"You want to come out and scare a team in their own place," Porter said. "Shock `em a little bit."
Across the field on the Penn State bench, things were getting ugly. "The crowd boos, Joe throws down his little paper, it's really bad," said Penn State backup quarterback Michael Robinson.
BC survived a scare when Knight departed in the second quarter with an injured right hip. Eager to prove he was a better running back at BC than he was a linebacker at Penn State, Dodd (13 carries, 62 yards) did just that in Knight's absence, carrying nine times for 57 yards in a 66-yard drive that resulted in Sciortino's 31-yard field goal, making it 24-0 in the second quarter.
Penn State pulled within 24-7 when talented freshman Austin Scott capped an 11-play, 55-yard drive (in which the Nittany Lions had a pair of fourth-down conversions) with a 10-yard TD run on fourth and 1. Although they were Penn State's most dangerous threats, Scott and Robinson were limited to spot play in the first half, with Robinson getting one touch -- on a double reverse.
Asked why he wasn't used more, Robinson, who scored Penn State's second TD on a 2-yard run with 6:12 left in the game, said, "I have no reason why. I have no idea why the first half was called like it was called."
It played perfectly into BC's hands and enabled the Eagles to maintain control in the second half, especially when Knight returned to the game and showed he was no worse for the wear. Knight, who combined with Dodd to rush for 218 yards, gained 134 of his 156 yards in the second half, sealing the victory with a gutsy 31-yard run to the Penn State 43 that enabled BC's defense (which logged 77 snaps) to rest easy.
"It's a tremendous confidence boost for this team," Knight said. "You can only tell so many people that [the game plan] is going to work, but until you go out there and experience it for the first time, it's kind of foreign to you."
© Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.