SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Resolute in the desire to end this surprising season of redemption on a winning note, the Boston College football team allowed so much to slip from its grasp as the Eagles desperately tried to maintain a 4-point lead with two minutes left in their regular-season finale.
An eighth win? A warm postseason destination? A Heisman Trophy, perhaps?
All of it seemed to go by the wayside in Saturday’s 34-31 loss. The Eagles were forced to play the majority of the second half without senior running back Andre Williams, whose dark horse run at the Heisman was dealt a setback when he aggravated a sprained right shoulder on the first play of the third quarter and didn’t return.
Williams finished the game with season lows of nine carries and 29 yards, with 26 yards coming on a first-quarter TD run that gave BC a 7-0 lead.
“I’m just sad, I’m just sad for the loss,’’ said Williams, who remained the runaway leader for the Doak Walker Award, finishing with 2,102 yards on 329 carries to rank ninth in FBS history.
“I really didn’t want the season to end like this,’’ said Williams. “But you win some and you lose some.’’
Syracuse quarterback Terrel Hunt, who accounted for 360 of his team’s 480 total yards, drove the Orange 75 yards for the winning touchdown before a Carrier Dome crowd of 37,046. Hunt capped the drive with an 8-yard toss to tight end Josh Parris with six seconds remaining. Syracuse (6-6, 4-4) became bowl-eligible in its inaugural season in the Atlantic Coast Conference while snapping a four-game winning streak for the Eagles (7-5, 4-4).
“It was a very disappointing loss,’’ said BC coach Steve Addazio.
The Eagles seemed to salt away the game when senior linebacker Steele Divitto intercepted Hunt and returned it 20 yards to the Syracuse 22 with 2:49 remaining. But without Williams in the backfield the Eagles couldn’t punch it in. Nate Freese kicked a 21-yard field goal to put BC on top, 31-27, with 2:08 to go.
“Give credit to Syracuse,’’ Addazio said. “They had to go down the field, 75 yards with two minutes and no timeouts, and they were able to do that. They played very hard today. I thought we played hard today.’’
No one played harder than BC quarterback Chase Rettig, who accounted for 253 of BC’s 359 total yards. The cool customer from San Clemente, Calif., led BC in rushing with 85 yards (and a TD) and threw for 168 yards and a pair of scores.
“All year, the whole point, as Coach Addazio told us, was to be selfless and to be a team player and win and compete as hard as you can,’’ said Rettig. “That’s what I’ve tried to do all year. We tried to do that tonight and they ended up having a drive at the end in two-minute, so give them credit.’’
With Williams out of the mix, Rettig did his best to maintain a handle on the situation when he rallied the Eagles to a 28-24 lead with 7:49 left, hurtling into the end zone on a 1-yard swan dive.
“Chase is really something else,’’ Williams marveled. “This year, this really wasn’t the type of offense that was really going to allow him to shine the way he’s capable of, but he still finds ways to show us that he has a heart — he has a big heart. He came through when we needed him to. He’s a great quarterback.’’
Hunt triggered a 21-point spree by Syracuse when he threw a 1-yard TD toss to Parris that tied the game at 7 with 10:46 left in the first half. After Cameron Lynch intercepted Rettig at midfield, George Morris capped a nine-play drive with a 4-yard TD run. Hunt’s 1-yard TD plunge made it 21-7 with 1:10 left before intermission.
But Rettig wasn’t done swinging away. He capitalized on the opportunity to send BC into the locker room on an upnote by driving the team 71 yards, 52 of which came on completion to Alex Amidon to the Syracuse 9. Rettig then hit C.J. Parsons with a 9-yard throwback pass to give BC a touchdown with 40 seconds to go.
Williams’s departure did not derail the Eagles on the opening possession of the second half. BC staged a tying nine-play, 70-yard march that culminated with Rettig’s 9-yard toss to Jake Sinkovec.
Syracuse responded by driving to the BC 21 in 10 plays, but Kevin Pierre-Louis brought down Devante McFarlane for no gain on a third-and-11 option pitch left. Ryan Norton kicked a 42-yard field goal, atoning for his first-quarter miss from 30 yards.
Trailing, 24-21, Rettig engineered an eight-play, 74-yard response, reeling off a serpentine 54-yard run from BC’s 29 to the Syracuse 17. Freshman Myles Willis had four consecutive power runs to put the ball at the 1.
Facing third and goal, BC again showed its power-run formation, but Rettig tucked the ball on a naked bootleg.
He looked like he was going to sprint left to the pylon, but instead cut inside and launched himself over the goal line, giving the Eagles a 28-24 lead with 7:49 to go.
Syracuse again powered its way inside BC territory, but the Orange settled for a 44-yard field goal by Norton with 5:03 to go that pulled Syracuse within 28-27.
After the Eagle offense went three-and-out, BC’s defense, under duress all game, came up with a huge turnover on Divitto’s interception. That led to Freese’s 21-yard field goal with 2:08 to go.
“As I told the seniors and the team, this is the loss that hurts,’’ Addazio said. “It hurts because our team is learning how to become a highly competitive, big-time team, and a loss like that rips their guts out, as it would to that style of team.
“As I said to them, we want to hold our heads up high when we walk out of here. It’s going to rip our guts and it should and it will be great motivation to get our eighth win in a bowl game.’’
As tough as this loss was to swallow, especially in this renewed rivalry between former Big East members, the Eagles departed the Carrier Dome consoled by the fact this was not the end.
BC still has one more game to play in the postseason. It has one last crack at win No. 8.