When members of the Boston College athletic department asked Jeff Hafley if he was OK with the Eagles playing at UMass, the head coach didn’t hesitate.
“I don’t care where we play,” Hafley said. “I just want to play football. If that means we go to UMass, then let’s go to UMass.”
The Eagles, fresh off a 51-0 thrashing of Colgate, are set to face the Minutemen, who fell, 51-7, to Pittsburgh in Week 1. Kickoff is set for 3:30 p.m. Saturday at McGuirk Alumni Stadium in Amherst.
It’s the first meeting between the programs since 2018, the first outside of Chestnut Hill since 2016 (when they battled at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough), and the first on the UMass campus since 1982. The Minutemen finished 4-8 in that 2018 season, when BC cruised, 55-21, and are 1-16 since 2019.
BC leads the overall series, 21-5, has won 10 straight against the Minutemen, and is a 37½-point favorite, but Hafley isn’t concerned about the line or how each side has fared in the past. He isn’t playing up the in-state component as a motivational tactic, and he’s more than happy to ride a few hours west.
“I don’t know why we wouldn’t play there in the past,” Hafley said. “I respect UMass. I respect the staff. I respect the team. Our team respects their team. If it’s our turn to go and play there, then we’ll get on a bus and we’ll go play there. It’s as easy as that.”
Hafley believes a game like this is great for New England football and says he is thrilled to capitalize on any chance to spread the BC brand across the region. He pointed out that a game like this attracts fans from different parts of the state.
BC center Alec Lindstrom has made it abundantly clear that his hometown of Dudley is part of Central Mass., not Western Mass., yet he’s still expecting a massive squad to make the hour-plus drive to watch.
“It’s going to be a village,” Lindstrom said. “I’m surprised they don’t even have their own section right now for the Lindstrom clan.”
Odds are they’ll see a BC rout, but the Eagles are making sure they don’t get complacent or underestimate their opponent. Wide receiver C.J. Lewis said no game is too big or too small, and there’s a lot to play for in part because it’s an in-state clash. Quarterback Phil Jurkovec said the Eagles are excited to start their season with three straight games against schools from the Northeast.
BC travels to Philadelphia to face Temple in a nonconference clash next Saturday at noon.
“We’re motivated like this week we’re playing Clemson,” strong safety Jahmin Muse said. “You can’t really throw anyone by. We can’t be focused on Clemson or Missouri. Right now it’s UMass.”
This will be Hafley’s first bus ride to a game since Ohio State traveled to Michigan in 2019, when he was the Buckeyes’ co-defensive coordinator. He fondly remembers packing lunches and feeling like he was “king of the world” while sitting in his own seat back when he was a young coach.
That was then and this is now, and Hafley is hoping to keep the momentum rolling against a team he refuses to underestimate. He said he has a ton of respect for UMass coach Walt Bell and he believes the Minutemen will “take off” and start to win more games soon.
UMass tight end Taylor Edwards said the Minutemen are embracing the underdog mentality and viewing it as a chance to upset a Power-5 school. He said they have a hunger to prove to the world that they can compete with anybody, and there’s no better opportunity than this.
Bell, in his third year with the program, isn’t focused on the hype or the noise. He did, however, note that it will be a momentous day for all involved as the Minutemen play hosts for the first time in almost two years.
“It’s a huge game for our campus,” Bell said. “It’s a huge game for the state of Massachusetts.”
The Eagles are planning to wear their “Red Bandanna” uniforms Saturday on the 20th anniversary of 9/11.
“To me, it was a no-brainer,” Hafley said. “We’re going to do that in honor of every single person that was affected by 9/11.”
They plan to wear the jerseys again for the official “Red Bandanna Game” on Nov. 5, when they host Virginia Tech.
On Sept. 11, 2001, Hafley was running backs coach at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, preparing for that week’s game. He said he remembers the day vividly and makes sure to discuss it with his players.