DURHAM, N.C. — So many things seemed to conspire against Boston College’s offense in its first Atlantic Coast Conference road game at Duke.
There were the injuries that left BC without its starting running back and quarterback, and a pair of tight ends. There was the foul weather. And, oh yes, Duke’s salty 10th-ranked defense.
The Eagles (3-2, 0-2) struggled to cash in on their scoring opportunities in Saturday’s 9-7 setback against Duke, before a soggy crowd of 20,009 at Wallace Wade Stadium, and departed Tobacco Road lamenting three opportunities lost to put points on the board, any of which likely would have resulted in a different outcome for BC had it capitalized.
“We made more plays on offense than they did,’’ said coach Steve Addazio, noting how the Eagles outgained Duke, 305 yards to 228. “But we had 7 points taken off the board and two missed field goals. That’s 13 points off the board.’’
In the end, that proved costly. “Certainly 7, certainly 7 came off the board,’’ Addazio said, his voice rising at the recollection of a controversial call that nullified an apparent 25-yard TD grab by Thadd Smith in the second quarter.
Officials ruled the sophomore wide receiver failed to maintain possession after he got behind his defender, made a leaping grab of a Jeff Smith toss, and rolled to protect the ball before landing on his stomach in the end zone.
“I thought it was a good catch,’’ said Smith, who made a pair of receptions for 99 yards, including a 66-yard touchdown pass from Troy Flutie in the third quarter. “But the officials thought otherwise.’’
After the call was upheld by video review, the Eagles turned it over on downs when holder Bobby Swigert bobbled the snap on a 42-yard field goal attempt and was dropped for a 6-yard loss.
The crowning blow came in the fourth. The Eagles marched to the Duke 27 but came away empty-handed when freshman Colton Lichtenberg, with a gusting wind at his back, missed a 45-yard field goal attempt wide left.
Then, after Addazio exhausted his last two timeouts trying to preserve the clock for one last shot, the Eagles regained possession at midfield. But on fourth and 2 from the Duke 42, Jeff Smith — who had entered with 2:35 remaining when Flutie got rocked by safety Jeremy Cash’s open-field hit — badly underthrew a wide-open David Dudeck in the left flat, resulting in a 1-yard loss.
“That one is on me,’’ said Smith, who rushed 11 times for 60 yards and was 3-of-13 passing for 12 yards. “He was wide open and I should have hit him in the chest.’’
“We’ve got a team that’s scrappy and tough and they play hard,’’ Addazio said. “But we’re young and we’re asking guys to make some plays and we’re very inconsistent with it all.’’
The reason BC had any shot to win was because of the stellar play of its top-ranked defense. The Eagles held the Blue Devils (4-1, 2-0) to three first-half field goals by senior Ross Martin (36, 38, and 53 yards) and 228 total yards (33 rushing on 35 attempts), and had a pair of sacks (by Steven Daniels and Matt Milano).
BC allowed the Blue Devils only 73 yards on 39 second-half plays, punctuating that dominant effort with a brilliant goal-line stand that came after Sherman Alston muffed a punt that Johnell Barnes recovered at the BC 15.
Duke quarterback Thomas Sirk (18 of 36, 195 yards) was denied the end zone on a 12-yard run to the BC 1, and the Eagles held for four downs. Junior defensive end Kevin Kavalec stopped running back Jela Duncan for no gain on fourth and goal.
The stand gave BC a spark, and Flutie eventually capitalized with his 66-yard TD strike to Thadd Smith. But the Eagles didn’t score again.
“All we wanted to do was get 6 more yards with the wind at our back to take one more crack,’’ Addazio lamented. “But we couldn’t get it done. We were afraid to run the ball because we didn’t have any timeouts left. At that point, where we needed to make one more play, we couldn’t make one more play.’’Michael Vega can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.