WEST POINT, N.Y. — The explosion on the Boston College sideline was wild, euphoric, and unbeknownst to them, premature.
The Eagles defense had been baited into Army’s shell game all afternoon, and finally, at seemingly the most critical point, it guessed right.
On fourth and goal from the 1-yard line, looking to cap a methodical 74-yard drive with the touchdown that would give them their first win of the season, Army went with the option they had run repeatedly.
The Black Knights had every reason to be confident in it. They had converted 8 of 11 third downs, 2 of 3 fourth downs, and run for 516 yards because of it.
When running back Raymond Maples caught the pitch from quarterback Trent Steelman it looked like he had enough room to sneak over the goal line.
But defensive end Mehdi Abdesmad and defensive back Sean Sylvia led a wall of BC jerseys that met him before he could get there.
At that point, with 2:03 left, all the BC offense had to do was tie the bow.
As soon as the stop was made, wide receiver Alex Amidon said, “Now, we’ve just got to get a first down and that’s it. That’s game.”
They never got it.
Running back Andre Williams, who had the Eagles’ best rushing game all year (21 carries, 191 yards, and two touchdowns), ran three times and got all of 7 yards.
Pinned at its 7, BC had no choice but to punt it back to the Black Knights.
Three plays later, Steelman ran 29 yards for the touchdown that gave Army a 34-31 win, snapping an eight-game losing streak that dated to last season.
In what’s now a 1-4 season for BC, with each loss more painful than the last, the swing left the players almost shellshocked in the locker room.
All BC quarterback Chase Rettig (16 for 29, 234 yards and a touchdown) could think about was not getting the first down that would have iced the game.
Williams wished he could have gained 3 more yards.
Amidon described the mood of the team as simply as possible.
“Everyone’s down,” he said.
Army was winless coming in, bottoming out a week ago with a home loss to Stony Brook, a Football Championship Subdivision team. The Eagles could say they had a win, but it wasn’t against a Football Bowl Subdivision team.
Between Steelman (22 caries, 141 yards), Maples (34 carries, 184 yards) and Larry Dixon (13 carries, 128 yards, and two touchdowns), the Eagles had to play guess-who on every play, having their biggest flaw — a leaky defense — exploited yet again.
With No. 3 Florida State looming next week, the Eagles are at their lowest point.
“We’re going to have to look ourselves in the mirror and figure out where to go,” said coach Frank Spaziani. “There’s no place to go but up. It’s a matter of our attitude. Some of the little things are kind of holding us back over here and we’ve got to work through.”
The Black Knights were nothing if not transparent.
They were going to run the ball, they were going to do it with the option — closing the athleticism gap with some trickery — and as a byproduct, they were essentially going to put BC’s offense in time out.
The Black Knights ran the ball 79 times. Their offense was on the field for 38 minutes, draining the Eagles defense with every play.
As much as the Eagles knew what to expect from Army, they couldn’t stop it.
“We have a drill in practice called middle drill,” linebacker Nick Clancy said. “It’s basically an inside run the whole drill, and that’s basically what [the game] was. It was a 60-minute middle drill. I think 95 percent of the time they run the ball, and we knew that’s what was going to happen. We just didn’t execute.”
The Black Knights broke off big plays whenever the Eagles fell asleep. On the last drive, the Eagles dozed off at the wheel and paid for it.
Clancy watched Steelman streak down the field for the go-ahead score, knowing it was the same play Army had run at them all day.
For the third time this season, the Eagles put up at least 30 points in a loss. Clancy, who has emerged as the leader of the defense, didn’t run from the blame.
“The reason we didn’t win this is because we didn’t execute,” he said. “We knew what we had to do. We knew what our job was, we knew what our assignment was on defense and we just didn’t execute.”
“I don’t know why, I just kind of feel responsible. I don’t know what it is, but this one hurts.”
“We’ve got a lot more games to play,” Williams said. “We’ve just got to keep our heads up and get back to work tomorrow.”
Slumped in his seat, his face set in the kind of sigh that would take a long while to shake, Spaziani dwelled on another opportunity lost and the little things that led to it.
Eventually, he got up, pushed open the cold doors of the media room under the Michie Stadium bleachers, and made his way out.
Before he left, he said — almost to himself — something similar to Williams’s sentiments. “Keep your chin up.”