After returning from Southern California, the Boston College football team spent its bye week polishing its knuckles for Florida State. The Eagles had two weeks to prepare for a physical confrontation against the eighth-ranked Seminoles Saturday afternoon in an ACC Atlantic Division showdown at Alumni Stadium.
And for the better part of the first half, the Eagles succeeded in engaging Florida State in a back-alley brawl as they executed their ground-and-pound game plan. BC softened up the Seminoles in surging to a 17-3 lead, getting a pair of Chase Rettig touchdown passes and a Nate Freese 24-yard field goal on its first three possessions.
“There were times we had ’em backing up on the ropes,’’ said senior right tackle Ian White, who anchored a BC offensive line that ravaged the Seminoles’ defense for 397 total yards, including 200 rushing. “We had to take advantage of it and get the knockout blow, but we didn’t do it.’’
As is often the case, it’s the punch you don’t see coming that results in the biggest blow. On Saturday, it was a Hail Mary Haymaker.
And it was Florida State redshirt freshman quarterback Jameis Winston who landed it when he connected with Kenny Shaw on a 55-yard touchdown pass with no time left in the first half. It was the crowning blow of a wild 21-point rally by the Seminoles in the last 10½ minutes of the first half, which enabled Florida State (4-0, 2-0) to control a 24-17 halftime lead.
Although BC gallantly fought back with 17 second-half points, the Seminoles never relinquished their lead, pinning the Eagles (2-2, 1-1) with a 48-34 loss before a crowd of 40,129.
“Looking back at this game, obviously, we were right there,’’ said Rettig, who completed 18 of 28 attempts for 197 yards and a career-high four TD passes, matching Winston’s TD total. Winston was 17 of 27 for 330 yards.
Rettig’s performance was tarnished by a pair of interceptions, the first of which P.J. Williams returned for a 20-yard touchdown that gave the Seminoles 48-27 lead with 13:41 left in the game. The second, by Nate Andrews at the Florida State 1, came as the Eagles were looking to pull within a touchdown.
“We had some guys who were working really hard and sticking together and we were really good up front on offense,’’ Rettig said. “They played so hard, and obviously we kept fighting. So there were a lot of good things to take from this game, but there are no moral victories, obviously.’’
That was precisely the message BC coach Steve Addazio conveyed to his team in the immediate aftermath of its second consecutive defeat against a high-profile opponent.
“I told them, don’t walk out of here with a smile on your face thinking that you got some moral victory because you didn’t,’’ Addazio said. “We lost the game. Bottle the feeling of what it takes to win with the effort and intensity with laying it all on the line with no guarantee success is going to follow it.
“Then you’re going to win your share of games.’’
After BC’s defense recorded a three-and-out to open the game, the Eagles took over at the FSU 36 after a 19-yard punt return by Spiffy Evans. BC needed just eight plays to punch it in when Rettig threw a 6-yard TD pass to C.J. Parsons, the first of two scoring catches for the tight end.
After the Seminoles answered with a 40-yard field goal by Roberto Aguayo, Rettig made it 14-3 when he connected with senior tight end/fullback Jake Sinkovec for a 3-yard TD. Freese made it 17-3 when he converted on the first of his two field goal attempts, both from 24 yards.
“We played that game physically enough to win it,’’ Addazio said. “We gave up too many big plays and that cost us a football game. That didn’t have to happen.’’
Winston shook off his shaky start and finished the first half with a flourish by throwing three touchdown passes. His 56-yard strike to Rashad Greene pulled the Seminoles within 17-10, then he hit wide-open fullback Chad Abram in the left flat on a 10-yard toss that tied it, 17-17, with 1:49 to go.
After Florida State forced the Eagles to punt from their 27, the Seminoles took over at their 40 with 50 seconds left in the half.
Kasim Edebali sacked Winston for an 8-yard loss to send the Seminoles backpedaling to their 32. But Devonta Freeman ran 13 yards to the FSU 45. From there, with less than five seconds remaining, Winston squeezed off a Hail Mary heave.
“It was close,’’ Addazio said, when asked if he thought time had run out before Winston threw the ball. “I was watching the clock and it was close. But then I got caught up with the fact that we had him on the ground — twice.’’
Winston stepped out of the grasp of defensive lineman Mehdi Abdesmad, sidestepped out of the collapsing pocket, set his feet, and let fly a 55-yard toss to Shaw, who beat Spenser Rositano, made the catch, and fell into the end zone with no time left.
“Credit to him for making a great football play,’’ Addazio said.
Freshman Myles Willis sparked the Eagles when he returned the second-half kickoff 71 yards, giving BC the ball at the FSU 25. The drive seemed to stall on third and 10, but the Eagles were given a reprieve when the Seminoles committed a 15-yard roughing-the-passer penalty.
BC, however, was unable to capitalize and settled for a 24-yard field goal by Freese that cut the deficit to 24-20. Florida State answered with a nine-play, 75-yard drive that was capped by Winston’s 10-yard dart to Greene in the corner of the end zone.
Karlos Williams Jr. capped a nine-play, 60-yard drive with a 1-yard scoring plunge that gave the Seminoles a 38-20 lead.
Willis again sparked the Eagles when he hauled in a 52-yard TD pass from Rettig to cut the deficit to 38-27. It was Rettig’s longest completion of the season.
BC’s defense forced the Seminoles to settle for a 20-yard field goal by Aguayo for a 41-27 lead, but P.J. Williams’s pick-6 gave Florida State a 21-point lead with 13:41 to go.
BC managed one last touchdown on Rettig’s 17-yard toss to a wide-open Parsons. That made it 48-34, the final margin in a game BC fought so hard to control, but wound up losing to Florida State’s haymaker-throwing playmaker of a quarterback who was every bit as good as advertised.
“I think our defense did a great job of creating some confusion early for him,” Addazio said of Winston. “You saw some exchanges, some hesitation, some confusion and we sacked him . . . But to his credit, he gathered himself in the second half and made some of those big plays he’s capable of. This is one of the more talented Florida State teams, but they were in a physical fistfight today.’’
Michael Vega can be reached at email@example.com.