Boston College

Boston College Football: BC makes its first trip to Amherst since 1982

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College football looked very different in 1980. Sibling rivalries permeated regionalized schedules, and conferences resembled nothing of the spectacles unfolding on national television in 2021. It was all very local, and the schools owning the current headlines weren’t naturally the top dogs of the day.

Boston College, for example, was independent and played a smorgasbord schedule against Army and Syracuse. It played Yale in a non-conference game, and the final two games on the schedule were annual matchups against UMass and Holy Cross. The game against UMass was a particular pain point in the 1970s, but the back-and-forth nature of the matchup took an undercard backseat to the front page drama of Harvard-Yale.

The Eagles themselves weren’t a national powerhouse, but third-year head coach Ed Chlebek had himself a rebuilt, upstart team in that 1980 season. Its 1-3 start was long gone by the time the UMass game rolled around, and the upset over No. 11 Stanford came one week after the Eagles nearly knocked off No. 2 Pittsburgh. Their late-season flourish included wins over Army, Air Force, and Syracuse, and the four wins over a five-game stretch inserted BC into a Massachusetts state championship conversation as the UMass game loomed to kick off the annual home-and-home series against the Minutemen and Holy Cross.

UMass was nothing like Holy Cross. Both teams beat BC in 1978 as part of that winless BC season, but the Crusaders only possessed one winning season over the previous decade. The Minutemen were an elite program in the newly-formed Division I-AA and owned three consecutive Yankee Conference championships. They nearly beat Florida A&M in the first four-team bracket for the Division I-AA national championship, and they hadn’t finished below .500 in over a decade, a stretch that included a Division II Quarterfinal appearance in the year before the I-AA creation.

UMass also held two major victories over BC. It had won in 1972 and again in 1978, and a win in 1980 likely would have perched the Minutemen as the best team in the state for the new decade. For that reason, the 1980 edition felt more like a battle for territory than a football game, and the drama only increased as BC clung to a 13-6 lead with less than five minutes remaining.

It was at that moment that UMass nearly created a legend by breaking the BC mystique. Quarterback Dean Pecevich completed five of his six passes, and the last two throws to Garry Pearson broke the end zone with under a minute left on the clock. The score brought UMass to within one of the reeling Eagles, who floundered on the wet turf covered in kitty litter.

UMass head coach Bob Pickett knew it, and he subsequently gambled on a two-point conversion for a knockout win over BC. He called for another pass to Pearson, but he was blanketed enough to force Pecevich to throw a ball into coverage. It was incomplete, but penalty markers dotted the dirty field due to a holding call against the Eagles. It offered a potential replay at the one-yard line, and the crowd of more than 15,000 fans frothed at the second chance awarded.

It was just that Pearson, who was mauled by the defense, pleaded his case to the officials with a little too much gusto, and the referees threw an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on him after the play was over. It was enforced after BC’s penalty and forced UMass back to the 16-yard line.

“I was trying to get out for the pass,” Pearson told The Boston Globe after the game, “and my face mask was grabbed for a second. The official didn’t throw the flag, and I complained too much. I just didn’t want it to end like that, but the official had all the right in the world to do it, to penalize me. My heart was just too much into this game.”

Pickett again called for a two-point conversion, but Pecevich’s throw was intercepted by Mike Mayock and sealed a 13-12, Boston College victory.

The game highlighted the intensity of the rivalry between BC and both UMass and Holy Cross, but it was the final apex of both matchups. The BC-UMass game moved to early November in 1981 and disappeared two years later after Doug Flutie destroyed the Minutemen and led the Eagles into their national profile. 

UMass wouldn’t appear on the BC schedule again until 2004, but the matchup never found its original juice. The chasm in college football was too obvious by then, and the matchup was very different after the Minutemen transitioned to the bowl subdivision in 2012. They struggled to gain traction as members of the Mid-American Conference and enter Saturday with a 1-16 record since the start of the 2019 season. They are now FBS Independents, and their three meetings with BC since reclassifying have been largely non-competitive.

None of that will matter at kickoff on Saturday when BC and UMass enter a time warp back to the 1980s. The Eagles’ game in Amherst echoes a time when Doug Flutie was preparing to beat Framingham South High School on Thanksgiving and recall the days of Bob Pickett, Ed Chlebek, Dean Pecevich, and Mike Mayock. It’s September, but that old holiday state championship gauntlet is back

BC is at UMass for a game before tens of thousands of frothing fans. Get the kitty litter ready.

Here’s what to watch for when the Eagles board the bus:

Weekly Storylines (Tin Cup Edition)

You are the man, Roy. You are definitely the man. -Earl
The man needs a ride home. -Clint

A weird geographic dividing line that nobody can find separates Eastern Massachusetts from its Central and Western neighbors. It’s a very territorial line of demarcation, and it splits a small state into three very distinct, parochial groups of people.

It’s just that nobody actually knows where it is.

“So you have Massachusetts,” BC center Alec Lindstrom, a Dudley, Mass. native, said. “You have Eastern Mass. where all the guys are private school preppy guys that aren’t tough. Then you have Central Mass., which is the middle area like Worcester and (a chunk of) the 508 area code. I’m from directly south of Worcester and that whole area.

“Then you kinda get west when you’re driving down the Mass Pike,” he said. “You see it starts going, and you see a town here and there, but there’s just mountains and trees. That’s Western Mass. Western Mass is probably a little bit west of Worcester, but I don’t claim Western Mass. I’m Central.”

Everybody got that? Good.

The differences in locations are a running joke in Massachusetts, but Saturday’s game is all about the contrasting identities of the different sections in the state. It’s for the fans and supporters who either attended UMass or who went to school two hours east at Boston College. Neither school is totally bound to their location, but the perception of the juggernaut football team in the east and the overlooked underdog in the west is more of a reflection of the high school, local culture than anything else.

“We had gritty tough players playing in Central Mass,” said Lindstrom with a proud smile. “We would go play Western Mass, and who even knew if they played football before. Then we’d go play those preppy Eastern Mass. guys. I tell Ozzy (Trapilo) and Drew (Kendall) about it all the time. They went to places like Nobles and BC High and all those fancy places. 

“But you know what,” he said more seriously. “It’s good. It’s fun. It’s a fun little rivalry, and it’s good (for the state).”

You’d bury yourself in lye just to prove you could handle the shovel. -Romeo

The Massachusetts component is clearly a fun discussion piece, this game is an important piece for both teams after BC thumped Colgate and UMass was blown out by Pittsburgh last week. 

“In training camp, we installed a lot of first and second down (plays), third down, red zone, a lot of special teams,” Jeff Hafley said. “As we went into the Colgate week, we kept practicing (those plays) because we didn’t want it to get stale. It’s like in the NFL with preseason games where you work all training camp but don’t really run your offense and defense in the preseason games. So for Colgate, we practiced more than we actually ran.”

It made sense for Haley to avoid showing too many complex plays during the Colgate game, but it also makes sense if BC executes more of those calls this week against UMass. He can leak some of those plays onto the call sheet or strip them out if BC repeats its performance against the Minutemen.

“As the game got going, we started crossing off stuff we didn’t want to put on tape,” Hafley said. “We’re going to continue all the stuff we worked on during training camp (because) it’s a really large menu. Then you know Tem, myself, and the defense can establish and sit down to decide what we’re going to use into each game. We’ll make adjustments as we need.”

This is for Venturi who thinks I should lay up. -Roy McAvoy
What does he know? He only won this tournament before you were born. -Romeo

Dialing back for a second week doesn’t necessarily require a blowout score, but it does necessitate BC getting an early lead on the Minutemen. Both the offense and defense talked about the need to improve their play and learn from the Colgate game call, and the implication naturally trends towards Hafley hammering the baseline from the Eagles’ performance against the Raiders. Reinforcing those options inevitably will enable BC to take marked steps against UMass just as how NFL teams continue to build their rosters in the first couple of preseason games.

“Stay with the basics,” wide receiver CJ Lewis said of his objectives for the week. “(We can’t) go away from the basics that we learned during camp. We emphasize doing the little things right and expanding on the details.”

BC’s coaching staff loves to stress fundamental football in the early weeks in the season in order to build better mechanics for the later complexities. The Eagles shook off any and all rust from last week, but UMass is a new opponent with different alignments on both sides of the ball. That means the database can continue to grow against both a different offense and a different defense with a different setting against different personnel.

“We could have handled a detail better with splits or technique,” Lewis said of last week. “Assignments (could) have been better with blockers on a perimeter. We take a look at the film and decide how we can take another step (from there).”

Countdown to Kickoff

10…The BC defense was the 10th-best passing efficiency unit in the nation after last week’s game.
9…The 51 points scored by BC last week were ninth-best in the nation.
8…Number of times in Jeff Hafley‘s first 12 games that BC committed six or more penalties.
7…The Eagles are 7-2 lifetime in games played at UMass, with the lone losses coming in 1972 and 1978.
6…The Eagles are 6-1 under Jeff Hafley when leading at halftime compared to 1-4 when trailing.
5…Number of victories by UMass in 26 all-time meetings with BC.
4…Number of times BC has scored at least 50 points in a game against UMass.
3…BC only ran three drives in the second half of last week’s game against Colgate.
2…BC scored 40 points against UMass in two of their last four meetings.
1…Number of starts remaining for Ben Petrula to hit 50 starts in 50 games in his career.

BC-UMass X Factor

Trench Warfare

BC likes to stage its early week practices as a way to pit the first-team offense against the first-team defense in a concept deemed “good-on-good” by head coach Jeff Hafley. Intended to sharpen the team’s iron against the best players, it’s a way to ramp up practice before dialing back on game plans in the early season when players hone skills and fundamentals.

“After every individual period, the first thing we do is good-on-good,” center Alec Lindstrom said. “On Tuesdays, we do run, and on Wednesdays, we do pass. It’s good for us and good for (the defense) because you’re really feeling the speed that we play at, and we’re feeling the speed the defense plays at. We’re also competing, and you still have to compete.”

BC’s offensive line is recognized as one of the best in the nation, and last Saturday was an opportunity to witness how a defensive line ravaged by preseason injuries learned and adjusted from those periods. Shitta Sillah led all players with seven tackles, but the linemen – Sillah, Cam HorsleyTJ Rayam, and Brandon Barlow – recorded over two tackles-for-loss with two sacks. All four had multiple takedowns.

“You can’t get into a lull of just playing against the scout team,” Lindstrom said. “You have to keep competing against each other to feel the speed and physicality of everything, so when I go out and make a play or I see them go make a play, it’s awesome.”

Facing BC’s offensive line is a huge advantage for the defense, especially this week when it faces a largely-inexperienced UMass line. Four freshmen are listed atop the depth chart, including three true freshmen and a right tackle that’s listed at 285 pounds. The left guard is a junior, but he only joined UMass as a transfer last season. 

There are two graduate transfers further down the list, and how UMass swaps them into play will challenge the Eagles to find new, creative ways to attack the quarterback to replicate the five sacks and amassed by Pittsburgh last week.

Dan’s Non-Football Observation of the Week

The weeks after the 9/11 attacks were some of the most tense days in my lifetime. The entire nation sought answers as it grappled with its own fear, but our cities and citizens rallied together in unprecedented ways. We found comfort in our mass gatherings, and those first events enabled Americans to stand together to honor each other as one giant nation. There was an obvious security presence, but the simple act of walking into a stadium linked folks together in a shared experience.

It was never lost on me that Boston College experienced a peculiar coincidence in the aftermath of the attacks by returning to its football schedule against both Navy and Army. The game against Army, in particular, was at home and was the first game at Alumni Stadium, and I still remember the pregame atmosphere in the stands. My section in particular unfurled a massive American flag and applauded and cheered for the cadets with a very different attitude one week after the Eagles beat Navy in Annapolis.

That year was the last time BC played both service academies in a single season, and neither team appeared on the schedule as often as they did during the Big East era. Navy played BC in 2002 and in the Meineke Car Care Bowl with Army appearing on the 2005 and 2007 schedules, but a home-and-home against the Black Knights in 2012 and 2013 was the last time the Eagles played a service academy.

I don’t know what any of this is getting at, but I guess I’m just grateful for how the schedule broke in 2001. BC played both Navy and Army in the first two games after 9/11, and I’m thankful I was able to, somehow, be part of that historical footnote.

Scoreboard Watching

Last week was anything but a banner week for the ACC. Half the league won its non-conference games over mid-major and FCS opponents, but every marquee game broke against the league. Georgia beat Clemson in a low-scoring affair, Notre Dame nipped Florida State in overtime in a high-scoring affair, and Alabama beat Miami in an affair featuring one high-scoring team and one low-scoring team.

Duke and Georgia Tech lost to Charlotte and Northern Illinois by a combined four points, and Ole Miss raced past Louisville in the final ACC-SEC matchup of the weekend. And even in the conference, North Carolina’s loss to Virginia Tech opened a rabbit hole of question marks about which team could sustain momentum for a long haul season.

It took all of one week to open a power vacuum that Week Two likely won’t fill. Virginia, Syracuse, and NC State are the only teams facing power-conference opponents, and none of those teams are likely to claim league supremacy with a win over Illinois, Rutgers, or Mississippi State, respectively, and it definitely won’t happen while the remainder of the league plays either mid-major or FCS opponents.

It will then take a different kind of chaos to move the national needle, but it’s one that can happen right away in the early slate of games when No. 12 Oregon plays at No. 3 Ohio State. It precedes the 4:30 p.m. intrastate game between No. 10 Iowa and No. 9 Iowa State and a nightcap that includes No. 14 USC hosting Stanford and No. 23 Arizona State hosting UNLV.

BC’s next opponent, Temple, is at Akron at 3:30 p.m. in a game broadcast via ESPN+. The Owls were blown out last week by Rutgers and need this win to avoid slipping to 0-2 for the first time since 2018 (though, to be fair, they finished that season 8-5).

Around the Sports World

It feels like a slower second week for college football after the explosion out of the gates, but I’m strangely okay with it because I can save energy for the start of the NFL on Sunday. Around these parts, the Mac Jones era officially begins in Foxborough when the Patriots host Tua Tagovailoa and the Miami Dolphins.

It’s strange to see two quarterbacks from the same alma mater face each other in the NFL, but it’s even weirder to see one’s successor immediately challenge him within two years of occupying the same college roster. Both won national championships at Alabama when Jones backed up both Tua and Jalen Hurts in 2018 before he served as Tua’s QB2 after Hurts transferred to Oklahoma for the 2019 season. He took over in 2020 and won a national championship before joining Tua in the AFC East.

It’s hard to pinpoint who has the advantage in that game (I still think Tua), but the same could be said across the league given the depth of talent playing in the NFL. I can find positives on almost every roster, and even the ones without star quarterbacks have superstar running backs or a smothering defense. Carolina, for example, traded for Sam Darnold in the offseason, but he’s a former top-10 pick playing in front of Christian McCaffrey. The Lions have long struggled, but they traded for Jared Goff, a No. 1 overall pick with a Super Bowl appearance. Even the Jets – the Jets! – have a rookie quarterback showing signs of growth.

I think this season could be one of the best NFL years in a long time, and the 17th game adds a layer of intrigue to the expanded playoff race from last season. It’s hard to figure out who has the advantage, even though there’s that guy down in Tampa Bay who can’t figure out how to get old, and I can’t wait to just sit back on a Sunday and soak it all in.

Pregame Quote and Prediction

The first public love of my heart is the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. -Josiah Quincy

I love Boston, and I believe the parochial divisions within Massachusetts make it a special place to live. Our Thanksgiving rivalries rank among the oldest in the nation and offer centuries of history for our communities, towns, and cities. Our identity as a state is often tied to our sports teams – maybe a little too much sometimes – and beating our brothers and sisters from those neighboring areas offer some of our most cherished memories.

Massachusetts isn’t just Boston or the Red Sox, Celtics, Bruins, and Patriots. It’s places like Malden, Medford, Revere, Saugus, and the North Shore, and it runs down the Southeast Expressway to Quincy, Scituate, and the Cape. It runs out west to Needham and Wellesley and settles into working-class places like Waltham and Framingham. 

The people make this place great, and on Saturday, the people are why a Boston College-UMass football game matters. It’s a way to fill our hearts with healthy hate for a few hours as we recall memories of a bygone era, a boulevard through an old football-style Beanpot. 

UMass and BC built their student populations from the same regions, but the schools represent something different. The Minutemen are playing for the flagship public institution situated in Western Mass. The Eagles represent the Catholic school with a view of the Prudential Center. It’s Boston vs. the Berkshires, and there’s nothing more fun than that.

Boston College and UMass kick-off at 3:30 p.m. from McGuirk Stadium in Amherst, Massachusetts. The game can be seen locally on NESN-Plus with streaming options available through FloSports.TV, though viewers must have a subscription to FloSports to watch the game online. Radio broadcast is always available via the Boston College Sports Network from Learfield on both WEEI 93.7 FM and 850 AM with satellite radio available at Sirius channel 108, XM channel 202, and Online channel 965.

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