It was a long way to travel, all the way to Las Cruces, N.M., to finally find paydirt. But, as far as Mike Naples was concerned, it was well worth the journey.
The senior tight end went the distance to score the first touchdown of his Boston College career on a 69-yard play-action pass from quarterback Chase Rettig.
Fittingly, Naples snapped his scoring drought on the parched New Mexican hardpan of Aggie Memorial Stadium, where the Eagles also snapped a nine-game road losing streak with a hard-fought 48-34 victory at New Mexico State last Saturday.
“I’ll tell you what, it took me a while to catch my breath,’’ said Naples, who, like the rest of his teammates, was affected by the thin mountain air in Las Cruces. “But it was definitely good to get that first one under my belt. I was waiting a long time for that.’’
To that point in the season, Naples had made four catches for 49 yards, his longest being a 17-yard grab on a naked bootleg at Clemson Oct. 12.
Regarded more as a blocking than a receiving tight end, Naples’s output in the first eight games of the season matched the production of his previous three seasons at the Heights. He made four catches for 23 yards during that span, including an 8-yard reception against North Carolina State Nov. 12, 2011, that was the first of his BC career.
He never figured he would have to go as far as he did, or wait as long as he did, to score a touchdown.
“No, I did not,’’ Naples said after BC wrapped up practice Tuesday in preparation for Saturday’s regular-season home finale against North Carolina State. “If I get one at home on Senior Day, it would be an awesome day. Any time you get a touchdown at home for the first time, it’s a special experience.’’
Had he ever come close?
“I haven’t been too close,’’ said Naples, who earned All-State (Group 2) honors as a senior wide receiver at Somerville (N.J.) High, where he made 20 catches for 454 yards and eight touchdowns. “I had my share of touchdowns in high school, but, in college, I’ve been pretty much used as a blocking tight end, which was kind of a switch-up for me.
“So it was nice to have the ball in my hands and to be able to do something with it.’’
As he demonstrated on his touchdown, Naples did not handle the ball as though it were a foreign object. He lined up next to right tackle Ian White on a power formation, made a clean release off the line, got behind the second line of defense, and turned to haul in a quick strike from Rettig.
“I kind of looked up, like you said, and you kind of ID the field, just to see what’s going on and how to run your route,’’ Naples said. “But when I saw the field how [open] it was, I thought I might have a chance. But once I got the ball, I definitely knew I had a chance.’’
It was only a matter of Naples finding the wind and the strength to make the end zone.
“I was running for my life,’’ he said with a laugh.
Was he tempted to look up at the Jumbotron in the north end of the stadium to see who was in pursuit, just as freshman Myles Willis had done on his 98-yard kickoff return?
“A couple of guys asked me that, and I definitely should’ve done that, because it was a good idea,’’ Naples said. “But I just kept my eyes forward and ran as hard as I could.’’
The end zone felt like a moving target that kept getting farther away as Naples ran harder and harder to reach it.
“Oh, definitely,’’ he said. “I was running for about 30 yards and I was like, ‘How much more do I have to go?’ I took me like about halftime to get my wind back.’’
Naples’s touchdown was the first of five explosive scoring plays of 30 yards or more that helped BC survive a wild affair against the Aggies and pull within one victory of becoming bowl-eligible for the first time since 2010.
What made it even more meaningful for Naples, though, is that he did it in front of his parents, Anthony and Tammy Naples, who have trekked across the country this season to follow their son. Mike rewarded them, as well as some aunts and uncles who came to the game from neighboring Arizona, for their unwavering support.
“They were just really, really excited,’’ Naples said of his parents. “They were happy for me and they support me 110 percent. They pretty much come to every away game and like seeing different campuses, so it was a great experience for them, too.’’Michael Vega can be reached at email@example.com.