Boston College Football Four Downs: Pittsburgh Game

Boston College Football Four Downs: Pittsburgh Game

In a month defined by frights, ghosts, and goblins, Saturday delivered a scene eerily reminiscent of the 2014 Pinstripe Bowl, a game recalled as the Nightmare in New York. Boston College led that game, 24-21, before Penn State’s Sam Ficken kicked a 45-yard field goal to send it to overtime. In the first session, a potential protracted, long night sailed wide right after BC scored first, and the Eagles lost when the Nittany Lions scored on their first possession and kicked a PAT to win, 31-30.

That memory sailed back to Chestnut Hill on Saturday when Pittsburgh’s Alex Kessman boomed a 58-yard field goal to send BC’s game against the Panthers into overtime. 

This time, however, the football gods exorcised the demons.

Aaron Boumerhi hit a PAT after Phil Jurkovec’s 25-yard touchdown pass to Zay Flowers, and Kessman shanked an extra-point try after the Panthers scored a potential game-tying touchdown to reverse the result of the Eagles’ last overtime game with a 31-30 final at Alumni Stadium.

“I was getting ready to play defense again,” BC head coach Jeff Hafley said of the finish, “and I glanced up off the sheet. I saw the kick go wide right, and I think, this time, I jumped where, in other games, I just had my mask on. I was excited for this one.”

Context cleansed more than just the 2014 loss for the Eagles, who won their first overtime game since beating Wake Forest, 27-24, in 2009. Jurkovec threw for 358 yards with three passing touchdowns and a rushing score in a win over his hometown school. He became the first BC quarterback to throw for 300 yards or more in three of his first four career starts, and he matched Chase Rettig, the last quarterback to throw for 300 yards on three separate occasions in a season.

It continued Jurkovec’s immediate assault on the Boston College record book. His 1,181 yards over his first four career starts broke Shawn Halloran’s 35-year record, and his 99 completions and eight touchdowns are setting a new pace for BC quarterbacks. He is already halfway towards the program’s top 25 career passing yards and is on pace to become just the fifth quarterback with 3,000 yards in a single season.

“The big thing is the scheme and getting guys in the right situation,” Jurkovec said. “We have a lot of playmakers, and they’ve showed it.”

The performance swirled into the program’s confluence of events. Rettig’s 2012 numbers came during a two-win season, a lost year during which the defense seemingly found ways to give up scores at the worst possible moment. The last home game of that year, against Virginia Tech, was the last overtime game at Alumni Stadium prior to Saturday. All of it, like the 2014 loss at Yankee Stadium, seemingly went up in smoke when Kessman’s kick flew wide right. 

“I am proud of our guys and the resilience they showed,” Hafley said. “We didn’t play our best. Penalties amounted for 17 points in that game, which was self-inflicted. I’ll clean that up, but when penalties lead to touchdowns, it’s hard to win. Pitt had momentum at the end of the game, but you look at the resilience of our players, how much they love each other and don’t flinch.”

Here are the rest of the takeaways from Saturday at Alumni Stadium:

First Down: Zay Flowers

Zay Flowers caught eight passes last week against North Carolina, but the two-game downturn in yardage after his 162-yard breakout against Duke led to some silent questions about what would happen when defenses keyed on him. He only had two receptions against Texas State, and the speedster started to feel a little bit like a gimmick, jet sweep threat.

On Saturday, he reminded viewers exactly why that’s not the case. He caught six passes and equaled his opening game yardage with another 162 yards against Pittsburgh, and he tied a school record by hauling in three touchdowns and the first since Kelvin Martin did so against Holy Cross in 1986.

“Zay is one of the best receivers in the country,” Phil Jurkovec said. “The way he can move is unlike anyone I have seen. We knew (the defense was) playing low corners, so we were going to have a chance with Zay on deep balls. He made the plays. He got open.”

Flowers’ breakout occurred after offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti baited the Pittsburgh defense with the run. He judiciously deployed both David Bailey and Patrick Garwo and drew the Panthers closer to the offensive box. The safeties crept up and left the defensive backs in one-on-one, tight coverage, a fatal mistake against Flowers’ blazing speed.

“Using speed releases, sticking at the top, I knew (the defensive back) couldn’t flip his hips that fast,” Flowers said. “I watched film all week and watched how he moved. I used my speed against him.”

“Their safeties played ten yards down (to the line of scrimmage),” Jeff Hafley said, “and they’re the best run defense in the country. They’re really good upfront. Extra defenders are deep in the box. We had shots we were going to take. We almost had some more. It’s what they were giving, and we had to take it. And we did.”

Second Down: Kenny Pickett

Phil Jurkovec’s 77-yard pass to Flowers gave BC a 10-point lead to start the second half, but the Eagles flat-lined across the third quarter after Kenny Pickett seized game momentum shortly thereafter. On the drive immediately following the play, he led the Panthers into field goal range before Alex Kessman missed a 49-yard field goal, and he later engineered an 81-yard touchdown drive to pull within three before the fourth quarter began. 

He later completed two passes before Kessman’s 58-yard field goal to tie the game. In total, Pickett went 12-for-24 in the second half for more than 130 yards as part of a larger, 25-for-48 performance. He finished with 266 yards total and two touchdowns, and he scored early in the first half on a one-yard sneak, his fifth rushing score of the season.

“Kenny is a tough son of a gun,” Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi said. “I’ll go to war with that guy any day. He’s tough. He played his tail off.”

Pickett is a lot like his predecessor, Nathan Peterman because he can make throws within a pro-style offense. He doesn’t have Sam Howell’s natural arm or Trevor Lawrence’s ability, but he should be a rising name by next year’s NFL Draft. He’s a good, solid quarterback with above-average feet and intelligent decision making, and he commands an offense now fully designed around him.

That usually translates to a good, developmental quarterback. Peterman was that type of quarterback after he transferred to Pitt from Tennessee, but the Buffalo Bills installed him as a starting quarterback during his rookie season. Part of it was due to injuries to players like TJ Yates, but Peterman likely needed two or three seasons to learn how to play professional football. 

Pickett is very similar and will likely find a home with an NFL franchise, as long as it is willing to wait on him holding a clipboard for a couple of years.

HAF-time Hits

-I didn’t get a chance to watch part of the first half because I was driving to my brother’s house, but the broadcast on radio didn’t miss a beat from an atmosphere with no fans. The piped-in band audio sounded crystal clear, and the noise-canceling in the radio booth made it sound almost exactly like it would in a standard game. I couldn’t tell the difference, especially when Zay Flowers caught his first touchdown pass.

-Welcome back to Boston College, Mark Herzlich.

-I don’t want to get ahead of myself, but the more I talk about Chase Rettig, the more I’m reminded that the 2012 Eagles played 12 games. Only two quarterbacks threw for 3,000 yards in an 11-game season, and Glenn Foley and Doug Flutie’s 1993 and 1984 seasons are somewhat iconic in these parts.

Third Down: Boston College Defense

The 58-yard field goal tied the game late in regulation in the fourth quarter, but the fact that it happened was the product of the Boston College defense. On third down from the BC 26-yard line, Max Richardson sacked Kenny Pickett for a 15-yard loss, an almost inexplicable play that should have ended the Panthers’ chances if not for the miracle kick.

“We wanted to pressure him more,” Jeff Hafley said. “We pressured earlier when he was spinning out and making plays, but we wanted to collapse the pocket. We wanted to make some plays, and Tem and the staff came together and had a really nice play.”

Richardson had the only sack but added two additional tackles-for-loss in a game where both he and Isaiah McDuffie combined for 20 takedowns. Josh DeBerry recorded an interception, and Brandon Sebastian broke up six passes and dropped a potential second pick as the Eagles recorded a full defensive effort against a redesigned, pass-first offense.

“(DeBerry) came on a couple of really good blitzes,” Hafley said. “He’s a tough guy on this team, and he has really good ability. We can play him inside and outside. He’s as good as any (defensive back) on this team. He just keeps getting better and better. I love him.”

Fourth Down: The Hafley Effect

I don’t know if it’s related to being on Zoom more this year, but this year’s Boston College media sphere is one of the closest, friendliest working groups I have ever joined. It’s incredibly collaborative, and I appreciate the differing viewpoints. People have a great opportunity to read what we have to say, but I know the off-line conversations challenge me to really know the deeper levels of football. I like making it a competition because I’m crazy like that, but it really is a wonderful place to talk football with knowledgeable, friendly folks.

We all agree that Jeff Hafley‘s effect on this program is incredibly palpable right now. The team is playing beautiful football and winning games, and there’s a new energy and enthusiasm surrounding Boston College. A couple of media members pointed to his interview on WEEI’s OMF radio program as an example, but Hafley has the ability to win over people with his passion, every time he speaks.

It’s part of the football program’s overall package. Each of the team’s last three games went down to the wire because the Eagles just kept churning through the second half. Any indication of a late-game swoon is usually swallowed up by BC’s compete level, and the fiery way the team ends every game is infectious for the fans. 

A perfect example came after Alex Kessman’s 58-yard field goal. BC took over on its own 25-yard line with 40 seconds left and went 40 yards in six plays. Phil Jurkovec connected with Hunter Long for two passes for 35 yards and put Pitt on its heels. It set up Aaron Boumerhi for a 52-yard field goal attempt, which was missed, but the fact that the Eagles drove the length of the field before overtime showed the team’s fight. That they won in overtime wasn’t a surprise, though it still brought celebration and elation.

Point After: Virginia Tech

Boston College improved to 3-1 overall and 2-1 in ACC play with the win over Pitt, but it plays a familiar opponent for the first time next week when it heads on the road to play Virginia Tech. The previously-unbeaten Hokies lost for the first time in 2020 on Saturday when they dropped a 56-45 shootout to North Carolina.

Virginia Tech had to rally in that game from a 21-0 deficit in the first quarter and did so with 31 points after halftime. They scored four times in the third quarter alone, and quarterback Hendon Hooker threw three scores, including two in the second half. He finished with just seven completions on only 13 attempts, but two went for touchdowns as the Hokies rolled up nearly 500 yards of total offense.

The game will be BC’s first road game since the season opener at Duke and will be played under the lights at Lane Stadium. Kickoff is at 8 p.m. and can be seen on ACC Network.

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