Josh Morgan-USA TODAY Sports
The stars were aligned for Boston College on Saturday, but Clemson had other ideas.
The Eagles entered Death Valley on Halloween as 24 1/2 point underdogs despite Clemson missing a few key defensive players and some other guy named Trevor Lawrence due to a positive Covid-19 test that was made public on Thursday night.
If Boston College was ever going to have a chance to upset the top-ranked Tigers, it was Saturday. 2020 had already shown us how weird things could get, so the idea of the Eagles celebrating on a flight home while a full blue moon hovered above them wasn’t that crazy given the circumstances.
BC led by 18 at one point in the first half and took a 15-point lead into halftime. Unfortunately, Clemson is the top team in the country for more reasons than just Trevor Lawrence and the Tigers showed their championship pedigree with a 34-28 comeback win.
The Eagles (4-3, 3-3) will have a bounce back opportunity next weekend at Syracuse, but for the time being the Eagles made quite a statement to a national television audience despite the loss.
“I’m proud of our guys,” said head coach Jeff Hafley. “In a game where nobody gave us a chance to even be on the same field as them, our guys came out with confidence, they came out believing in each other, they came out believing in their coaching staff. Our coaches did an unbelievable job with the game plan. We took it to the No. 1 team in the country.”
With Lawrence out as well as defensive playmakers James Skalski, Tyler Davis and Mike Jones. the Eagles offense started the game with the ball and put their foot on the gas immediately.
Phil Jurkovec (12/24, 204, 2 TD’s) hit Zay Flowers on a deep ball on the first play from scrimmage, setting the tone early for what would be a wild day. BC scored four plays in when Flowers ‘Moss’d” a defensive back in the end zone for an 11-yard TD and an Aaron Boumerhi extra point made it 7-0 under two minutes in.
True freshman quarterback DJ Uiagalelei (30/41, 342, 2 TD’s, 1 rushing) and running back Travis Etienne (20 carries, 84 yards, 1 TD, I recieving TD) quickly responded with a seven-play drive and Etienne scored on a 35-yard dump off to make it 7-7. Just six plays later the Eagles took a 14-7 lead on a David Bailey 2-yard touchdown run. The teams traded punts and the Eagles nearly went up 21-7 on a long Jaelen Gill return for a TD on the Tigers’ punt, but it was negated by two different flags and Clemson took over at their own 30 with just over three minutes left in the quarter.
What happened next appeared to signify that this might just be Boston College’s day after all. The Tigers marched 15 plays down to the Eagle 1-yard line. On 3rd-and-goal from just inside the one, Etienne fumbled, and Brandon Sebastian picked it up, taking it to the house for a 97-yard scoop and score to make it 21-7.
BC’s defense held Clemson to a field goal on the next possession making it 21-10, but after being on the field for a while they needed the offense to have a sustained drive. The Eagles took over at the BC 25 with 8:44 left until halftime and responded with one of the best drives they will have all season, albeit with a little help.
The first major development happened when Jurkovec hit Hunter Long while throwing off his back foot for a 3rd-and-12 conversion. Moments later Jurkovec appeared to be picked off, but there were offsetting penalties and BC got another life. Travis Levy kept the chains moving on the next play and BC continued to kill clock.
With Joe Tessitore in the booth calling the game for ABC, his long-snapping son John was about to add a memorable moment to this instant classic.
With BC facing 4th-and-2 and just over a minute left in the half, the Eagles lined up to kick a field goal, but Tessitore ran to the line and got under center, drawing the Tigers offside. Tessitore’s father brilliantly made the call while keeping his BC ties under wraps. One play later Jurkovec tossed a ball towards CJ Lewis from 18-yards out. Lewis kept remarkable concentration while making a juggling, highlight-reel catch, capping the 15-play march and giving BC a 28-10 lead.
Uiagalelei put together an extremely important drive with the 1:02 remaining and Clemson booted a 50-yard field goal to steal back some momentum, cutting it to 28-13 at the half.
“No, I think if they scored a touchdown it would have,” Hafley said when asked if he thought that late field goal drive killed momentum. “I’m proud of the defense for stopping them there. Anytime you can stop that offense with that fire power and make them kick a field goal causes momentum, and we had that going into the half. Our kids were fired up in the locker room. We knew what this team was all about. We knew it was nowhere near over. If you look at them, they’ve scored almost 80 points in some games, 60 in others, so I felt really good going into halftime.”
The Tigers maintained that momentum and scored on a 30-yard TD run from Uiagalelei to cut it to 28-20 seven plays into the second half. BC was forced to punt after four plays and Clemson cut it to 28-26 moments later when Uiagalelei hit Amari Rodgers with a beautiful back shoulder throw but the two-point conversion failed.
Things started to unravel a bit soon thereafter as penalties – which continue to be a problem weekly for BC – killed the Eagles. A Tyler Vrabel false start on 3rd-and-2 on the ensuing drive ultimately led to the Eagles having to punt. Grant Carlson continued to be a weapon for BC, pinning the Tigers inside their own 1-yard line, but it was negated by a flag. No big deal, Carlson hit the next one inside the five, but again a penalty wiped it out and forced a re-kick towards the end of the third quarter.
BC led 28-26 heading to the fourth but Clemson made out with field position after Carlson’s big boots went to waste. The Tigers ended up going up 32-28 with 11:34 left in the game on another TD run from Etienne, this one from 17-yards out.
” I’ll coach it better, and we’ll fix that, but I thought we were way cleaner today than we’ve been. Grant’s been huge, Grant’s been just as important as any other player on offense or defense,” Hafley said of the penalties and his punter. “He’s a weapon, he went back knocking it, and “Boom” (Aaron Boumerhi) did a great job again today. I love Grant, he’s doing an awesome job.
The teams traded punts again and BC took over at their own 9-yard line with 10:06 remaining. Little did we know there was about to be another memorable moment in this thriller.
Jurkovec was intercepted during the early stages of the drive but it was wiped out on a roughing the passer call. The roughing the passer call was also a targeting call on Xavier Thomas and he was ejected from the game. Minutes later Jurkovec was forced to leave the game after getting the wind knocked out of him. The only problem was it was 4th-and-3.
Backup Dennis Grosel came on to the field ice cold and calmly threw a laser to Long to keep the drive going, providing another glaring example of what this new-look BC team is all about.
“I think it defines what we’re all about,” said Hafley. “The guy started last year, gets beat out, watches Phil get all the accolades. All he does is do his job, and that’s what this team is all about. He knows the plays, he knows what he’s doing. That was probably my favorite moment of the game. It sums up what we are trying to do here. I just felt like we’re doing this right. No matter what happens, that’s what you have to coach.”
“It was awesome to see Dennis go in there,” added Jurkovec. “He’s a great leader. He’s one of the best guys I’ve ever been around in terms of leadership.”
Jurkovec returned the next play, but the drive ended up stalling and the Eagles turned the ball over on downs with 2:21 remaining. The defense stepped up and forced another Clemson punt with 1:24 left. The only problem was that the punt was a phenomenal ball and pinned BC inside their own 1-yard line. Jurkovec was called for intentional grounding while being sacked in the end zone one play later for a safety to make it 34-28.
Boston College had one more desperate attempt at an onside kick and after a mini scrum the Tigers came away with the ball, ending the dreams of an upset.
So, while the Eagles will have to wait for another chance to upset the top ranked team in the country for the first time since the 1993 win over Notre Dame, it’s clearer than ever that things are different over at The Heights. There are no moral victories, but Hafley officially has Boston College back on the map as a team you can’t ignore.
“We won’t take any moral victories,” said Jurkovec. “We were up big in the first half and let them come back. Close isn’t good enough.”
“I know it hurts, and there’s no excuses, because they beat us,” added Hafley. “They played a really good game. I give credit to them. But I’m proud of this team. Anyone who watched this team play, anyone who watched the confidence of this team can see how much these kids love each other.
“Anyone watching should see what is coming. I said it all along, it’s going to take time and it’s going to be hard. But we’re coming and they’re coming. We’ll get the best out of them, and we’ll stick together.”