BLACKSBURG, Va. — Even with his team in a 14-7 halftime hole and its star running back AJ Dillon all but bottled up in constantly running into eight- and nine-man boxes, Boston College head coach Steve Addazio had his mind made up about what the Eagles had to do if they were going to walk out of Lane Stadium with a win for the first time since 2014.
“My mind-set was, the best running back in the country, we need to get him going,” Addazio said.
The logic seemed reasonable enough until the Eagles’ third drive of the second half.
Dillon bounced outside for a 13-yard run before tumbling to the sideline and crashing into a cameraman following a hit from Hokies linebacker Rico Kearney.
The sight of Dillon immobile, nursing an injured ankle, was enough to scare everyone on the Boston College sideline.
Seeing Virginia Tech’s defense contain their most dangerous weapon was one thing, but the possibility of losing Dillon for the rest of the game threatened to put the Eagles in a tight spot.
On the field, though, quarterback Anthony Brown had no clue what was going on.
“Honestly, I didn’t realize that he hit the camera,” Brown said. “I just knew that we had a substitution.”
The moment Travis Levy stepped in the huddle, he wiped the worry from the Eagles’ faces.
Levy took a handoff from quarterback Anthony Brown, found a gap on the left side of the line, burst past two Virginia Tech safeties and broke free for a 29-yard touchdown run to tie the game at 14.
As impossible as it may have seemed to step in mid-game and fill the shoes of the reigning Atlantic Coast Conference Rookie of the Year, Levy pulled it off, rushing for 75 yards and two touchdowns on 11 carries and fueling No. 24 BC’s 31-21 victory over Virginia Tech, which pushed the Eagles to 7-2 on the season (4-1 ACC).
The catalyst for the comeback, Levy never flinched when his name was called.
“Me and AJ, we communicate every day about different things, different fronts that we look at, so his eyes is just like my eyes,” Levy said. “Whatever he’s seeing I’m seeing too. We do that for all the running backs in the room, so everybody’s ready to play. It’s just next-man-up mentality.”
Coming in, Levy only had 29 carries and 102 yards to his name. The bulk of those came in the season-opener against UMass (11 carries, 40 yards).
“Gave him a game ball in the locker room,” Addazio said. “He’s an unselfish guy that does so much — catching the ball out of the backfield, running the football, special teams, he’s all over the place.”
The 29-yard touchdown was Levy’s first rushing score of the season. Then, with the Eagles up, 21-14, in the fourth quarter and looking for some cushion late, he punched one in from the 1-yard line, taking a punishing blow at the line of scrimmage, and pushing his way past the goal line to stretch the lead.
“He did exactly what people expect of people to come in and be the next man up,” said Addazio. “He’s the sole reason why we picked our game up today.”
The Eagles snapped a seven-game losing streak to the Hokies. They were previously 1-3 in Blacksburg going back to 2009.
Brown didn’t need to hear the horror stories from Boston College’s last trip to Blacksburg. He was on the sideline, a redshirt at the time, for the 49-0 fright fest in 2016.
For Brown, the key to getting out of Lane Stadium with a critical road win was shaking off some initial shell shock. After jumping out to a 7-0 lead on a 3-yard touchdown run by Dillon, the Eagles gave up 14 unanswered points. Hokies quarterback Ryan Willis had a 26-yard scoring strike to Damon Hazelton, then connected on a 4-yard touchdown pass to Eric Kumah.
Meanwhile, Brown went 8 for 18 in the first half, missing big-play opportunities. But he brushed off some early struggles and ultimately completed 15 of 26 passes for 177 yards and one touchdown, a 22-yard pass over the middle to tight end Korab Idrizi that gave the Eagles a 21-14 lead in the third quarter.
“Just executed, made some better throws in the second half and that was really it,” Brown said. “I didn’t execute well enough in the first half, and it was as simple as that. Second half, we made our minds up in the locker room that we need to give it all we got in the second half because they’re not going to back down.”
Dillon finished with 96 yards on 24 carries but didn’t see the field after tweaking his ankle.
“This is just how it’s going to be week to week,” Addazio said. “After the Miami game last week, he couldn’t practice all week long. Tried to get him going today. These are tough injuries for running backs, and he’s done an unbelievable job with it. But this is probably what we’re going to have to deal with now for the rest of the year until we can get to a bowl game and get some rest.”
At 7-2, the Eagles are off to their best start through nine games since they went 8-1 in 2007.
Still, even as they put together a critical road win, their matchup next Saturday with No. 2 Clemson loomed.
On the Lane Stadium scoreboard, players could see the Tigers piling up points on the way to an eye-popping 77-16 win over Louisville.
“I did see it flash up on the board there,” Addazio said, laughing. “You just wanted to ruin my night? Can I enjoy this game, get on the plane, maybe have one of those sandwiches, you know? Just feel good for 15 minutes? Or do you just want to be a mood killer?
“I know, I know, I know! We’re playing the best football team in America arguably right now. They’ve got players everywhere. They’re scoring 70 on everybody. But you know what? We’re going to put together a great plan and go after them.”