DETROIT — Things had gone so well for so long that Boston College quarterback Patrick Towles didn’t wan’t to let the usual nerves set in.
The Eagles offense had been as sharp as it had in years. The defense, as it’s always been, was the team’s backbone.
But the final five minutes of the Eagles’ 36-30 win over Maryland in the Quick Lane Bowl at Ford Field were so chaotic, Towles had to take a realistic survey of the situation.
The Eagles were clinging to a 36-27 lead late in the fourth quarter, Towles had just thrown an interception that set Maryland up in the red zone. The Terrapins pushed their way down to the goal line thanks to an untimely facmask penalty and suddenly it seemed that BC’s hopes of coming away with a win were unraveling right in front of him.
It had happened so many times before over the course of the season he was bracing for it.
“We’ve got to be ready for the worst,” Towles said. “Hope for the best, prepare for the worst.”
When Maryland quarterback Perry Hills botched a snap on second down and BC linebacker Matt Milano pounced on it, giving the Eagles the ball with 4:02 left, Towles thought he could exhale.
Four plays later, backed against their end zone, the Eagles tried to give themselves some room and burn some clock with an inside handoff to Jon Hilliman, but Hilliman got caught in a scrum at the line of scrimmage, coughed up the football and gave the Terrapins new life at the 5-yard line. That quickly, Towles had his finger back on the panic button.
It was enough to ask the defense to make one goal line stand, but the Eagles were looking for back-to-back stops.
On the sideline, Towles turned to wide receiver Charlie Callinan and said, “‘We’ve got to be ready for two-minute [drill].”
“You always have faith in your defense — always,” Towles said. “But as an offensive unit, you’ve got to prepare that they’re going to score.”
But the Eagles defense was prepared to get as many stops as it needed. It had wreaked havoc all day, but collectively, it was aware of the moment.
“We just looked each other in the eye and we knew we had it,” said defensive tackle Truman Gutapfel.
“We’ve been in tough situations before this year. We’ve been there before, so we were prepared. We just did what we do.”
Hills took three shots at the end zone and came up empty on each of them. The Terrapins had to settle for a field goal. Even when the Terrapins got one last shot with 1:48 left from their 35-yard line, the Eagles defense wouldn’t bend. They slammed the door when defensive end Harold Landry and Milano sacked Hills with 1:25 left.
From there, BC settled into the victory formation and ran the clock out to seal their first bowl victory since 2007.
Crisp and aggressive in the first half, the Eagles offense looked completely different from the one that clawed its way to six wins just to get back to a bowl game.
The Eagles took a 29-13 lead into halftime, behind three touchdowns (two passing and one receiving) from Towles. BC hadn’t scored that many points in a half all season. The Eagles hadn’t scored that many points in the first half against a Power 5 team since 2009. They hadn’t scored as many points against a Power 5 school in total in two years.
But with the game on the line, BC’s defense delivered.
“At the end of the day, we always say the defense is the tip of the spear and we want the games on our back,” said defensive end Kevin Kavalec.
BC secured their third winning season in four years under coach Steve Addazio after going winless in the ACC in a brutal 3-9 season a year ago.
“The emphasis was winning the game,” said Hilliman, who ran for 79 yards and a touchdown on 29 carries. “We showed a lot of resolve.”
Addazio decided to experiment with different concepts on offense. Running a no-huddle immediately caught the Terrapins off guard.
Between Hilliman’s 1-yard touchdown, a 2-yard touchdown pass from Towles to tight end Tommy Sweeney, and a field goal by Mike Knoll, the Eagles were sitting on a 16-0 lead in the second quarter.
But Addazio opened up the playbook midway through the second, calling a reverse for quarterback-turned-wideout Jeff Smith, who then threw a 20-yard touchdown pass to Towles that put the Eagles up, 23-7.
“I was just glad I caught it and didn’t get run down,” Towles said.
Knowing they still had the hot hand, Towles took another shot just before the end of the half, airing one out for Michael Walker down the sideline for a 49-yard touchdown with 35 seconds left that sent the Eagles into the locker room with a 29-13 lead.
Meanwhile, the Eagles defensive line terrorized Hills.
It made sense for the Terrapins to try to wall off BC’s all-ACC defensive lineman Landry, but all the attention they paid him made it easier for rest of the defense to wreak havoc. Hills was sacked eight times by six different Eagles.
“I saw so many guys making so many plays out there,” Addazio said. “At the end, they were relentless. It was really an impressive deal.”
Video: Patrick Towles touchdown catch:
Video: Tommy Sweeney’s touchdown catch:
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly listed the year of Boston College’s last victory in a bowl game.