NEW YORK — Boston College was still processing the disappointing end to its season after a 27-20 loss to Iowa in the Pinstripe Bowl on Wednesday when cornerback Issac Yiadom and tight end Tommy Sweeney crossed paths with quarterback Anthony Brown and cornerback Kamrin Moore in the bowels of Yankee Stadium.
Making the short walk from the postgame press conference to the locker room, Yiadom and Sweeney were still wearing the soot and stains of a battle that escaped the Eagles in the fourth quarter.
Brown and Moore were in street clothes, both sidelined with season-ending injuries.
They shook hands, hugged, and passed a few last words knowing they would be going different ways in the offseason.
In that moment, the four players embodied the two through lines of the Eagles season — the players the Eagles missed due to injury and the players who stepped up in their absence.
From senior center Jon Baker to defensive back and captain Moore to All-America defensive end Harold Landry, the Eagles navigated much of the season with a core of its upperclassmen on the sidelines. Still, Sweeney said, their presence was important.
“We’ve learned a lot from these older guys,” said Sweeney, a 6-foot-5-inch, 255-pound junior who recorded seven receptions for 137 yards, including a career-long 48-yard catch against the Hawkeyes.
“It’s been a hell of a ride. We’ve just been through so much together and they just paved the way and just the grit that they’ve had, the mentality they’ve had,” Sweeney added. “They just kept coming after so much wrong has happened and that’s what we have to take going into next year is to learn from that a know how good of a team we are and that we can be anybody.”
The Eagles (7-6) salvaged a season that started with four losses in their first six games, morphing into a team that stunned powerhouses in the ACC in the second half of the season and threw itself back into the national conversation as a program to watch.
The success came largely because of the young talent coach Steve Addazio had entrusted at the start of the season flourished as the season played out.
Freshman running back A.J. Dillon was a revelation. His 157 yards in the Pinstripe Bowl gave him 1,589 for the season, the most by a BC freshman and the fourth-highest season total ever at BC.
Before suffering a season-ending knee injury against N.C. State, redshirt freshman Brown had progressed into a confident quarterback capable not only of running the offense but making dynamic plays both through the air and on the ground. Freshman wideout Kobay White emerged as a primary target on tough downs, catching 34 passes for 423 yards and two touchdowns.
“I think as we move forward with the young playmakers that we have, the speed that we have on our team, and the explosiveness, I really like where we’re headed and where we’re going to be,” Addazio said.
The Eagles also will have questions to answer. With Brown and Dillon settling into their roles, the futures of their backups will be uncertain.
Darius Wade, who contemplated transferring after last season before returning to compete with Brown for starting quarterback job, made three starts in Brown’s absence, including the bowl game, in which he completed 16 of 27 passes for 208 yards, but also threw two interceptions and had a fumble.
Prior to the bowl game, Wade acknowledged his time at BC hadn’t gone as planned but the bowl was a chance to put his talents on display.
“My career pretty much hasn’t played out the way I wanted it to, necessarily,” he said. “But it’s a situation where I have this great opportunity ahead of me. This is a big, prime-time bowl game on ESPN in front of a national stage and I get to showcase what I’m capable of doing.”
Running back Jon Hilliman, a 6-foot, 220-pound junior, was gracious in his role as a mentor for Dillon. He also turned his 167 carries into 638 yards and five touchdowns and caught 24 passes for 155 yards and two scores.
But with Dillon having emerged as the Eagles’ featured back this season, Hilliman’s future with the team remained unclear when he cryptically alluded to it in a tweet shortly after the bowl game, saying, “Interesting off season ahead.”
Interesting off season ahead— Jonathan ?? Hilliman (@JMH_32) December 28, 2017
As a whole, the Eagles are arguably on more stable footing than at any other point in Addazio’s five years as coach. Addazio was in quicksand after going winless in the ACC two years ago. But the bowl berths have re-energized the program and now he has talent on offense to complement a defense that’s perennially carried the load.
It will inevitably raise expectations for next season.
“I feel like we definitely set the bar for the younger dudes,” Yiadom said. “Seven wins, it’s always great having seven wins, but it’s not what we want. We want better than that next year. They’ve got to get to eight or nine or an ACC championship. So the sky’s the limit for them.”Julian Benbow can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @julianbenbow.