Even with All-America defensive end Harold Landry sidelined for a second straight game with an ankle injury, quarterback Anthony Brown knocked out after an ugly knee injury, and defensive back Kamrin Moore sidelined after aggravating his shoulder injury, Boston College still had a chance.
The Eagles were trailing N.C. State, 17-14, late in the fourth quarter Saturday when backup quarterback Darius Wade and freshman running back AJ Dillon had pushed BC into the red zone.
After Dillon was smothered for a 4-yard loss on third and 8, BC had to set up for a field goal attempt from the 22 with just over four minutes left.
Even though Colton Lichtenberg was 10 of 16 on field goals this season, the kick was well within his range. He was a perfect 7 for 7 between 30-39 yards on the year.
But he never got the chance to get a kick off.
Instead, the attempt blew up on the Eagles from the second the ball was snapped.
Long snapper Jimmy Martin misfired on his delivery to holder Jeff Smith. Smith did his best to corral a ball that was spiraling into the dirt, but didn’t have time to try to salvage a setup for Lichtenberg.
“He had no chance to put that back up and kick the ball,” coach Steve Addazio said. “There was no chance.”
With no other options, Smith rolled out and hoped for a downfield option to develop.
He fired up a prayer between two defenders hoping it would find Colton Cardinal, but he never had a chance of grabbing it.
With that, the Eagles saw their best chance of extending their three-game winning streak crumble in the palms of their hands.
The 17-14 loss at Alumni Stadium brought an abrupt halt to the momentum the Eagles (5-5, 3-4 ACC) had built in wins over Louisville, Virginia, and Florida State, leaving them still searching for one more win to secure a bowl berth.
Dillon, the Eagles’ prodigious young running back, piled up 196 yards on 36 carries, shattering the Eagles’ freshman rushing record by pushing his season total to 1,039 yards. His 66-yard touchdown run in the second quarter was the game’s first score.
But an Eagles team that could hardly afford another injury took a huge hit in the second quarter when Brown’s right knee buckled under him as he tried to make an awkward cut to evade a tackler.
He immediately crumpled to the ground, pulling off his helmet and pounding his fist into the grass until trainers came to tend to him.
Addazio said he was still getting information on the extent of Brown’s injury after the game.
But the possibility that the knee injury could end Brown’s season was real.
“That’s the biggest fear,” Addazio said. “Sure. Without a doubt.”
With Brown out, the Eagles called on Wade. But on fourth and 1 from the 13-yard line in a scoreless game, Addazio decided not to kick what would’ve been an easy field goal and instead go to a gadget play. He called a jump pass for running back Jon Hilliman to Chris Garrison that failed.
Looking back, Addazio said, it was the wrong move.
“That call’s my call,” Addazio said. “The three options were the obvious ones. Obviously, I made the wrong one. We could kick it, we could hand it off to AJ. We had worked all week long on a special [play]. This was the special. It was a jump pass. We felt like they were going to fill really hard on fourth and 1 and we thought Christian Garrison would be wide open in the end zone.
“Honestly, I was going to kick the field goal. In my mind, I kind of knew what I was dealing with with Anthony. I said to myself, ‘We’ve got to score touchdowns.’ I made the decision. I thought we made a great call there, but I know — I’ve run that call in a different format in the past — it’s feast or famine.”
After the turnover on downs, the Eagles took another hit when Moore separated his shoulder breaking up a pass from Wolfpack quarterback Ryan Finley to Stephen Louis.
“It’s the same shoulder injury he had [two weeks ago],” Addazio said. “We tried to rest it for two [weeks], he was doing really good and obviously it slipped again, so we had to keep him out.”
The Eagles defense was already missing Landry, who hasn’t practiced since suffering the ankle injury against Virginia.
Wade took the reins at quarterback, completing 8 of 15 passes for 82 yards, but he struggled to run the offense against a menacing Wolfpack defense that hounded him for five sacks, taking advantage of how long Wade held the ball in the pocket.
Spartan running back Nyheim Hines turned 19 carries into 110 yards and a touchdown and Jaylen Samuels rushed seven times for 37 yards and another score as N.C. State (7-3, 5-1) stopped a two-game skid.
After hopscotching through a minefield of injuries all season, the Eagles’ hopes of returning to a bowl game depend on whether they can plug yet another hole.
“We’ve got some legitimate things that we’ve got to overcome right now,” Addazio said. “We’re playing really good football teams and we’re playing a very high level of football and we’re doing it, at times I feel like, with one hand tied behind our back — and we’re still doing it. That’s not an excuse, it’s fact. Now it’s all about maximizing what we have right now.”Julian Benbow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @julianbenbow.