For the better part of three quarters, the Boston College football team was searching for a spark. The Eagles were, as coach Steve Addazio put it, “hunting and pecking’’ for an explosive play that would help BC escape its offensive sluggishness in Saturday’s season opener against Maine at Alumni Stadium.
After struggling in the third quarter to expand their 10-3 halftime lead, the Eagles finally found their spark as a fireworks display in the fourth quarter pushed BC to a 24-3 victory before a crowd of 29,262.
BC was ignited on the first three plays of the final period.
Sophomore wide receiver Thadd Smith ran around right end for an 18-yard gain to the Maine 38. Sophomore quarterback Darius Wade, who had been hampered by a hamstring issue that popped up Monday, followed with a 17-yard run. On the next play, junior running back Tyler Rouse pinballed up the middle and into the end zone for a 21-yard touchdown.
It was the first of Rouse’s two scoring runs in the fourth, followed by a 45-yard sprint on a sweep right. Those TD runs accounted for 66 of his team-high 81 rushing yards on eight carries.
Bing. Bang. Boom.
“We have a bunch of explosive players and a bunch of explosive plays and we didn’t really get that unleashed today,’’ Addazio said after his team rallied from a 3-0 deficit to record its sixth consecutive win over its Championship Subdivision opponent from Orono.
“It’s not shocking in Game 1,’’ Addazio said. “But I’m assessing it and saying to myself, ‘You know what? We’re just going to need to let those guys go fly,’ because we need that.’’
That much was evident when the Eagles went three-and-out on their first offensive series. It came after Maine went 54 yards in 10 plays — the biggest being quarterback Dan Collins’s 21-yard strike to tight end Jeremy Salmon on third and 6 — to take a 3-0 lead on Sean Decloux’s 39-yard field goal.
The Eagles answered on their second possession with an 18-play, 66-yard drive that stalled at the Maine 4. On first and goal, Wade was sacked for a loss of 8 yards. He then took a 2-yard loss on a keeper, and was held to a 1-yard gain on a completion to Sherman Alston.
BC was forced to settle for Alex Howell’s 31-yard field goal with 11:30 left before intermission.
“That was a big-time drive and it looked good, it didn’t look herky-jerky,’’ Addazio said. “But the end of it looked so awful that you forgot it.’’
BC got an immeasurable first-half boost from game captains Mehdi Abdesmad and Bobby Swigert, both having recovered from devastating knee injuries. Swigert’s right knee injury led to 11 surgeries and two missed seasons.
Abdesmad recorded the first of BC’s five sacks and helped hold Maine to 91 total yards, including 7 net yards rushing on 20 attempts and 37 total yards after the Black Bears’ opening drive.
“I think we’re kind of young on the defensive side,’’ said junior linebacker Matt Milano, who led Don Brown’s marauding defense with two sacks. “So once we got our feet on the ground, we kind of took over and got the jitters out of our system.’’
The offense, however, took three quarters to do so.
After Howell missed wide left on a 35-yard field goal attempt that would’ve snapped the 3-3 stalemate, Swigert put the Eagles ahead to stay when he hauled in an 11-yard TD pass from Wade (14 for 25, 155 yards, 1 TD) with 26 seconds left before halftime.
“I had so many dreams of making that catch and celebrating with my team,’’ Swigert said. “I don’t know if you noticed, but the whole sideline was basically out to the numbers, even more excited than I was. It was awesome to see the support.’’
Swigert, wearing No. 10, capped a 10-play, 55-yard drive to give the Eagles a 10-3 lead in his first game back after being injured Nov. 10, 2012, against Notre Dame.
“That was surreal,’’ said Wade, who completed his first six passes and managed a BC offense that rolled up 359 total yards with no turnovers.
“I didn’t realize he was in until I threw it and he as about to catch it. So I was ecstatic given the struggle he’s gone through and what he went through to get back on the field and that my first touchdown pass was to him. So it was memorable to me.’’
Just as memorable, though, was BC’s finishing kick in the fourth.
The defense seemed to feed off of Rouse’s 21-yard TD. Freshman William Harris intercepted a Collins pass that was batted by Gabriel McClary, and two plays later, Rouse’s 45-yard TD run punctuated the Eagles’ season-opening triumph.
“We’re going to be a little different team this year, I think,’’ Addazio said. “We have to let it fly and let some of these fast guys be fast. I think Darius has the arm to get it there, so we’ll start to progress in that fashion.’’Michael Vega can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @MBVEGA.