MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. - The game had been over for almost an hour, and Frank Spaziani was one of the last people to leave the Boston College locker room at Sun Life Stadium.
All season long, the BC coach had talked about “what ifs’’ and “if onlys.’’
But Spaziani had maintained the faith, as any coach would. He said the Eagles were getting closer to putting it together.
Yesterday before a crowd of 43,952, BC did just that, with style and grace, the defining moment a 45-yard interception return for a touchdown by All-America linebacker Luke Kuechly early in the fourth quarter of a 24-17 win over Miami.
As Spaziani walked from the locker room to the bus, he tried to put it all into perspective. “You know what the most disappointing thing about this season is?’’ he said. “That it’s over.’’
BC’s record says the Eagles finished a disappointing 4-8, and did not make a bowl game for the first time since 1998. And at times, BC was indeed as bad as the record suggests. Yesterday, however, the Eagles were the essence of what BC football has been about for the past dozen years.
Facing a Miami team on the 27th anniversary of one of the greatest moments in BC football history - the Doug Flutie-to-Gerard Phelan Hail Mary pass in the Orange Bowl - the Eagles showed more than just signs of life.
They showed determination and discipline and in the end, the right stuff, which was enough to overcome some early mistakes, as Miami scored on two first-quarter touchdown drives that lasted a total of 3 minutes 21 seconds.
Unlike in a 38-7 loss to Florida State earlier this month, BC quickly responded to Miami’s first scoring drive - a five-play, 81-yard march highlighted by a 60-yard pass from Jacory Harris to Travis Benjamin on the first play from scrimmage - with a TD march of its own, capped by Chase Rettig’s 9-yard pass to tight end Chris Pantale.
BC had shown flashes against many of its opponents this season. Against Miami, which finished 6-6 but chose not to take part in a bowl game because of an ongoing NCAA investigation, the Eagles did more than that.
They emerged from the locker room at halftime trailing, 14-10, and went 80 yards in six plays. Rettig (13 of 17, 196 yards, 2 TDs) completed all three of his passes, the final one for a 32-yard touchdown to Pantale.
“I felt like I stayed in the pocket [with protection] a little longer than usual,’’ said Rettig. “Last week [in a 16-14 loss at Notre Dame], we had some pressure a little bit. I tried to avoid pressure. My mind-set this week was to stay in the pocket and step into my throws.’’
Rettig did that, and BC, which had not beaten the Hurricanes in Miami since the Flutie-to-Phelan game, had the lead.
And it was not going to give it up, although at times it seemed the Eagles would. Two drives were thwarted when backup quarterback Josh Bordner, used in situations near the goal line, was stopped on fourth down, and then fumbled inside the 5.
The fumble put BC in the precarious position of carrying a 17-14 lead into the fourth quarter against a team that was capable of wiping it out in a single play.
But the single play was instead provided by Kuechly, who has been BC’s one spectacular constant all season.
The interception was Kuechly’s third of the season and seventh of his career, and upped the lead to 24-14.
“I was supposed to be on Travis Benjamin and then he motioned the cross, so we moved around a bit,’’ said Kuechly. “I was looking him down the whole time and I made a play on the ball. I had good blocks in front of me and that really helped out.’’
Kuechly, in a classic running back mode, stiff-armed his way into the end zone. “I just wanted to score,’’ he said. “I didn’t want to get pulled down by the quarterback.’’
Nobody pulled Kuechly down, and no one brought BC down yesterday, as a season that began with consecutive losses to beatable teams Northwestern, Central Florida, and Duke, ended on an up note.