LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Boston College coach Steve Addazio likens the Eagles’ 2017 season to a roller coaster ride. If that’s so, then Saturday’s game at Louisville served as a microcosm for the up-and-down season.
BC trailed by 14 early, stormed back, weathered a Cardinals comeback, and then used a late turnover to set up Colton Lichtenberg’s 27-yard field goal with no time left to pull out the 45-42 victory. The game featured 1,180 yards of offense between the schools, with the 555 amassed by the Eagles their most in nine years.
There were more injuries. BC sent two of its captains out for the coin toss not in uniform, then watched starting quarterback Anthony Brown leave after the first drive of the third quarter. All Darius Wade did in replacing Brown was lead the Eagles on five scoring drives, including the last-second kick.
Freshman running back AJ Dillon had a breakout game, with 239 of his 272 rushing yards coming in the second half. He also scored four touchdowns, including a 75-yard score where he brushed off one would-be tackler and then threw another to the wayside at the line of scrimmage.
That score made it 42-28 with 11:59 to play, and it came immediately after Louisville’s Lamar Jackson threw a 40-yard touchdown pass to Dez Fitzpatrick. It seemed to take the wind out of Louisville, but Jackson, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, ran for two scores nearly four minutes apart to tie the game at 42 with 5:03 remaining.
The Cardinals then held BC again to get the ball back with 2:50 left. Jackson, who finished the game with 512 total yards and five scores, got the Cardinals to midfield. However, Jaylen Smith fumbled after taking a pass 20 yards. Kamrin Moore picked it up for BC and ran it back to the Cardinals’ 39. He fumbled, too, but Isaac Yiadom pounced on it to keep it with the Eagles.
After seven Dillon runs got it to the 10-yard line, Lichtenberg got the chance to give the Eagles (3-4, 1-3 Atlantic Coast Conference) their biggest win of the season.
After starting the season by making his first six field goals, Lichtenberg had missed five of his next six tries, including a 40-yard attempt earlier in the game. Still, when it came time to go out onto the field, Addazio didn’t say a word to the junior.
“You really don’t talk to a lot of people,” Lichtenberg said. “I mean, that’s it. You’re just looking up at those uprights and you visualize the ball going through.”
The coach called it a springboard performance.
“We have played nothing but really good football teams,” he said. “Our issue has been that we had a hard time closing out because we get gassed down the end . . . So, for us to finish, to stand and finish today, I’m so proud of our kids for finding a way to get that done.”
It certainly helped that the Eagles went up against a defense that was notorious for allowing big plays.
In four games against Power Five conference teams, the Cardinals allowed an average of more than 37 points a game.
Even BC, which entered Saturday as the worst offensive team in the ACC, took advantage of the porous Cardinals defense by recording both its longest pass (a 42-yard TD to Thadd Smith from Brown) and run (Dillon’s 75-yarder) of the season. The Eagles, who were averaging 322.5 yards per game, got 361 in the second half alone as Addazio placed an emphasis on the run after the break. The ground game accounted for 259 of those yards.
Dillon credited the offensive line for giving him and the rest of the running backs the chance to succeed.
“They really put it all out on the line for me [and] Jon [Hilliman] . . . and I can’t thank them enough,” he said.
If the roller coaster is on the upswing for Boston College, it’s on the downswing for the Cardinals (4-3, 1-3), who lost their second straight game overall and their third straight within the conference. Now, a season that started with a national ranking, a star quarterback in Jackson, and aspirations of a playoff berth stands at a crossroads.
“We have a lot of things to work on, a lot of things to fix,” coach Bobby Petrino said. “This is about as tough a loss as I remember being around.”
For Addazio and the Eagles, the goal now is getting to 4-4 next week by beating Virginia on the road.
“There will be more roller coaster rides,” Addazio said. “It’s just a fact of life right now, but in that room is the makings of a really good football team. That’ll happen.”