Defense forced to come up with play

By Michael Vega
Globe Staff / September 27, 2009

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One way or another, Boston College’s defense was going to learn something. The teachable moment came at the end of yesterday’s 27-24 overtime victory against Wake Forest when the Eagles were left with 4 yards of turf to defend.

In that desperate moment, BC looked very much like a defeated team. The defense had allowed Wake Forest quarterback Riley Skinner to rally the Demon Deacons for a pair of fourth-quarter touchdown passes of 12 and 16 yards that erased a 24-10 deficit and sent the game into OT.

Things looked bleak in OT when Skinner answered a 23-yard Steve Aponavicius field goal by driving the Deacons to the BC 4 in four plays. It pushed the Eagles to the brink of what would have been another demoralizing setback after last week’s 25-7 loss at Clemson, where the defense hung in and allowed the Tigers just 253 total yards and six field goals, the only touchdown coming on C.J. Spiller’s 77-yard punt return in the first quarter.

But the blitz call by defensive coordinator Bill McGovern enabled the Eagles to capitalize on a busted play when sophomore cornerback Isaac Johnson came steaming off the edge and poked the ball away from Skinner, who had rolled left.

Senior safety Wes Davis pounced on the loose ball at the BC 8, causing a spontaneous combustion on BC’s sideline and in the stands among the Alumni Stadium crowd of 40,892.

“We were on the ropes,’’ said BC coach Frank Spaziani. “It was first and goal on the 4. We were just trying to make a play. It looked like they had a little confusion. We were aggressive. And [between] confusion and being aggressive, something good happened for us.’’

Davis found himself at the bottom of a pile of teammates. Meanwhile, several of Wake’s players were doubled over in disappointment.

“We had pretty good control of that game, it felt like,’’ Davis said. “Wake Forest is a very intelligent team and I think their coaches started finding holes in our defense and tuned us up pretty well. You know, it would’ve been a terrible way to lose a game that you felt you had a grasp on. The play at the end was all about running to the ball, which is what we preach at BC. It doesn’t matter what the situation is, 11 people running to the ball, even if you’re doing the wrong thing, then good things usually happen, and I think that was just the case with that.’’

Wake Forest’s confusion collided with BC’s aggression, enabling the aggressors to redeem themselves after nearly letting one slip away.

Davis’s game-saving fumble recovery helped BC’s defense cover up a number of glaring blemishes. There was a 76-yard touchdown run by Brandon Pendergrass. A 38-yard catch by Marshall Williams on third and 13. And, of course, Wake’s fourth-quarter rally that sent it into OT, where it all went awry for the Deacons with 4 yards to go.

“We had a speed sweep called to the right and the running back [Pendergrass] went the wrong way,’’ Skinner said. “So when I went back there, I kind of froze up. I didn’t think he was going a different way. I went to put the ball in the other hand and I guess to try to run it or get back to the line of scrimmage, and their guy just got a hand on it. It was bad ball security by me. A kind of a sloppy play, really.’’

It was a play that seemed to do wonders for BC’s battered defense.

“They were at a crucial point for their pysche,’’ Spaziani said. “That helps their psyche. But, defensively, once again the problems are still there. What we saw during the spring and what we saw in the preseason, they’re still there. We had a long run, which was totally unacceptable; a long pass on third down coming out of the end zone. But give Wake Forest credit over there, too. They locked us up and did some nice things. Maybe we could have helped ourselves out in some other ways, but we’ll learn from it and move forward.’’

Then, cracking a weary smile, Spaziani added, “It’s always better to learn when you win.’’

Michael Vega can be reached at