Nate Freese stood alone near midfield of Maryland’s Byrd Stadium, his head bowed, hands on hips, and a bitterly cold wind nipping at him as he tried to quiet his mind and go through his pre-kick routine.
“I was just trying to judge the wind a little bit more,’’ said the Boston College senior kicker. “I kind of got away from my teammates because they don’t really understand the mind-set.
“I’m trying to stay calm while they’re all trying to pump me up. But, obviously, they all want the best for me.’’
To his back, some 52 yards away, were the uprights Freese failed to split only moments before with a kick that sailed wide left. It appeared to snap his streak of 16 consecutive made field goals.
That was, of course, before Freese was given an unexpected reprieve when Terrapins coach Randy Edsall tried to ice him by calling a timeout with two seconds left and the game tied at 26.
“I kind of knew going into it that he would probably call a timeout,’’ Freese said. “Before I even hit the ball, I kind of knew I was going to get another chance at it. After watching a lot of college football and stuff, I kind of figured out that he was going to call a timeout because pretty much everyone always does.’’
Problem was, it gave Freese a practice kick he nailed on his second chance, lifting the Eagles to a 29-26 victory. It guaranteed BC a seventh win, a winning record for the first time since 2010, and a bowl berth.
“I was glad to kind of get a judgment on the wind a little bit after that first kick,’’ said Freese. “It was kind of at my back and kind of right to left, a little bit.’’
It was not unlike the situation Patriots’ kicker Stephen Gostkowski faced Sunday night when he converted a 31-yard field goal to lift New England to a 34-31 overtime victory over the Denver Broncos at Gillette Stadium. “Judging from what I saw on TV, it looked pretty similar,’’ Freese said.
One of the most accurate placekickers in the nation with an .859 career field-goal percentage, Freese also ranks as BC’s all-time scoring leader (310 points) and career leader in field goals made (67). His kick at Maryland not only tied a career long against Wake Forest Oct. 1, 2011, it also went down in the books as being significant for another reason.
“Yeah, it was my first game-winner,’’ said Freese, who made field goals of 22, 19, and 52 yards to go with a pair of PATs, which earned him ACC Specialist of the Week honors. “I never had one in high school, either.’’
So it was the first game-winning kick of his . . . entire . . . football . . . career?
“Yeah, it was the first ever,’’ Freese said.
What could have prepared him for that moment?
“I look at it as it being just as important a kick in the first quarter as it is at the end of the game,’’ said Freese, who has converted 35 of 37 field goal attempts (94.6 percent) in his last two seasons. A blocked PAT at Maryland snapped Freese’s perfect record in that department, leaving him 35 of 36 on the season.
“I kind of approach them all the same way,’’ he said. “I just try to stay calm in that situation. I tried not to make it bigger than what it was. Obviously, I realized what time in the game it was, and stuff like that, but I was just trying to stay as calm as I could.’’
Just like his teammates, Freese has been building up to this moment in the season where the Eagles (7-4, 4-3) have a chance to go for their eighth win and improve their postseason posture among a crowded field of 10 ACC bowl-eligible teams.
Syracuse (5-6, 3-4) will be looking to become the 11th bowl-eligible team in the ACC when it hosts BC Saturday in a renewal of an old rivalry that goes back as Eastern Independents, then as founding members of the Big East football conference.
And Freese could think of no better place to play the last regular-season game of his BC career than the Carrier Dome.
“I’ve been looking forward to this Syracuse game all year, just because it’s in a dome,’’ he said. “It’s kind of like a kicker’s dream to kick in a dome.’’
Asked if it would entice him to test the limits of his range, Freese said, “In a way, yeah, but if my number’s ever called for a kick where they think I can kick from, I’ll go out there and do it. It’ll be great if I do [get a crack to surpass his career long], but I just want to win the game, because that’s all that matters to me.’’Michael Vega can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.