BC finally gets on the board
First victory of season is a rout of Minutemen
The symptoms: No wins; breakdowns on offense, defense, and special teams; a growing sense of doom in what was turning into a long season.
The remedies: A University of Massachusetts team that had won its first two games, but was still very much the quality of the Championship and not Bowl Subdivision; the return of running back Montel Harris; big plays by the offense and defense.
The result: Boston College 45, UMass 17.
If it were only that simple for coach Frank Spaziani’s Eagles, who won their first game of the season yesterday afternoon at Alumni Stadium after losses to Northwestern, Central Florida, and Duke, an 0-3 start that was BC’s worst since the 1991 team began 0-4.
There were all sorts of positive signs for the Eagles, who resume the Atlantic Coast Conference portion of their schedule next Saturday against Wake Forest. Harris, who hadn’t played since November, undergoing two arthroscopic procedures on his left knee, displayed some rust, as expected. He also provided a glimpse of the player who is closing in on becoming the all-time leading rusher in BC history, finishing with 27 yards on nine carries.
Quarterback Chase Rettig, who was showing signs of wear and tear after back-to-back efforts in which the offense came up empty at crucial times, took apart the overmatched UMass defense, throwing a career-high three touchdown passes. BC raced to a 24-7 halftime lead and never looked back.
When Spaziani was asked afterward how important it was for BC to win a game - any game - he paused and smiled. “How beneficial is your next breath of air,’’ he said.
On a humid afternoon, it was UMass (2-1) trying to catch its breath in front of the sparse crowd of 30,176. BC (1-3) came out aggressively, and it resulted in an interception of a Kellen Pagel pass by free safety Hampton Hughes. So prepared were the Eagles that Hughes said he saw the same play in practice on Thursday. But unlike their first three games, when the Eagles had failed to capitalize on such opportunities, they turned the turnover into a score as Rettig ended an 11-play, 47-yard drive with a 1-yard TD pass to tight end Lars Anderson.
It was a portent of the next 55 minutes. BC rolled to the 24-7 lead and then nearly doubled it after intermission, its scores including a 16-yard fumble return by Nick Clancy, and a spectacular 96-yard fumble return by fellow linebacker Kevin Pierre-Louis.
Pierre-Louis took the opportunity to watch himself on the Jumbotron as he raced toward the end zone. “I looked up and knew my teammates had my back,’’ he said.
It was a day filled with highlights for a team whose confidence had been steadily eroding through not only losses, but injuries, defections, suspensions, and dismissals.
“You should see the locker room,’’ said middle linebacker Luke Kuechly, who extended his streak of games with double-digit tackles to 26 with 11 stops. “Everybody is so pumped up. I think getting our first win shows us what we are capable of and what we were working on in the offseason. It shows what we can do the rest of the season.’’
No one was happier than Spaziani.
“We are elated to get our first victory,’’ he said. “It took four weeks but we finally got it. We made some plays. Hopefully we can build on it and move forward. We made some plays on defense, we got some turnovers.’’
And many of those plays were spectacular in nature, starting with Hughes’s interception on the Minutemen’s first play from scrimmage.
Holding a 24-10 lead early in the third quarter, BC had to prove to itself that it could handle success. The 24 points were more than the Eagles had scored in any of their three games. Rettig and Colin Larmond Jr. bumped the lead to 31-10, hooking up on their second scoring pass, a 37-yarder off a go route with 1:36 left in the third.
Nineteen seconds later it was 38-10 as Clancy returned a fumble by Jonathan Hernandez 16 yards for a TD.
The Minutemen appeared to finally respond, moving the ball inside the BC 5-yard line, before Pagel was hit by defensive end Max Holloway. Pagel coughed up the ball, which was scooped up by Pierre-Louis and turned into another score.
“The key word is confidence,’’ said Pierre-Louis. “Our defense started well. Our main goal was to hold teams under 17 points, which we did. It’s a confidence-builder going into next week.’’
Rettig completed 14 of 22 passes for 196 yards and the three scores.
“I did some good things,’’ he said. “It was a good team win.’’
For a day at least, it all clicked for BC. “It’s nice to smile again,’’ said athletic director Gene DeFilippo.
Mark Blaudschun can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.