PITTSBURGH — The howls from the visitor’s locker room bounced off the walls deep in the bowels of Heinz Field, their echoes loud enough to hear for several hallways.
Boston College football coach Steve Addazio knew he was walking into a celebration after the Eagles iced a 26-19 win over Pittsburgh and to become bowl eligible for the sixth time in seven years after a season of peaks that sprung optimism and valleys that bred skepticism.
But he didn’t expect to react the way he did when he crossed the threshold into a mosh pit of players that had just saved their season.
He stopped for a second, almost startled but still smiling as Alec Lindstrom burst into the frame. The maroon and white jerseys flickered in front of him like flicks from a small flame. Addazio finally let himself go and threw himself in, pushing and shoving and sharing in a moment that he told his team would come if they held firm even if outsiders weren’t quite convinced.
“I know he wanted this one badly — and we wanted it for him,” said quarterback Dennis Grosel. “So it was nice to see him let some emotion out.”
There was a surreal satisfaction that came with salvaging a 6-6 season and the probability of living to play another game.
“That’s a special moment,” Addazio said. “Money can’t buy that moment. Nobody understands that moment. You’ve got to be in that. That’s one of the great feelings that there is.”
The Eagles are expected to make their fourth straight bowl appearance — which would represent only the second time in school history that the program has put together a string as long. Ever on the hot seat, Addazio’s job security once again came into question as the Eagles struggled through an inconsistent season and had to wonder whether seven wins was the ceiling with Addazio at the helm.
But, in that moment in the locker room, those were questions far from his mind.
“That’s why I got in this business,” Addazio said. “I looked around that room and saw all the personal stories and I said a little thanks to God for giving me the opportunity to be in the business that I’m in. It was special.
“That’s a special moment. Money can’t buy that moment. Nobody understands that moment. You’ve got to be in that. That’s one of the great feelings that there is. I told them that was one of the greatest moments in my college coaching career, and I think I’ve been in a fair amount.”
All season, BC had been hoping for its defense to show any vital signs. With the Eagles’ season on the brink, a unit that’s gone through growing pains finally showed signs of life when the Eagles desperately needed it.
Missing for most of the season as he recovered from an offseason knee injury, linebacker Isaiah McDuffie gave the Eagles defense a frenetic playmaking presence it had been missing all year. He finished with 13 tackles (10 solo, 2.5 for losses), two sacks and a hurry.
The Eagles got forced fumbles from linebacker Vinny De Palma and defensive ends Marcus Valdez and Brandon Barlowe along with an interception from Jahmin Muse, never letting Pitt’s offense find any sort of rhythm.
“I could definitely feel like we had a different energy and we played with that all game,” said Valdez. “It means everything. The past two weeks, we found a new motivation and we started loving each other more, telling each other, communicating, ‘We love you. Let’s play for each other.’ ”
AJ Dillon made another masterpiece look routine, turning 32 carries into 178 yards and a touchdown against the Atlantic Coast Conference’s top run defense. When Pitt took a 16-13 lead in the third quarter thanks to a 39-yard run by freshman tailback Vincent Davis, Dillon answered by ripping off a 61-yard touchdown run that snatched the lead back.
When the Eagles needed to nail the coffin in the fourth quarter, Dillon was the hammer. He rattled off eight bruising carries for 47 yards, draining life out of the Panthers defense and the final 4:15 off the clock.
“At the end of the game, AJ ran like an absolute beast,” Addazio said. “We had to close the game out and get first downs and our line was rocking off the ball and he was slamming into defenders and they were all at the line of scrimmage and he was getting 4 and 5 and 6 yards per carry. That happens when you have complete unselfishness, when you have complete loyalty to your team and your team’s more important than yourself.”
With their postseason fate all but determined, all BC has to do now is wait. They’ll find out which bowl they’ll head to on Dec. 8.
Until then, they’ll enjoy the rewards turning what could’ve been a sunken ship into a success.
“All I cared about was getting this team to six wins and getting another month with them,” Addazio said. “Watching what I watched, that was the greatest gift that I got. I’m grateful. I don’t know what to tell you. All that other stuff, I’m not avoiding questions, that’s just how I feel.
“I don’t know what to tell you. It’s not about me. I’m fine. I’m in a great moment. I’m going to enjoy that moment.”
Julian Benbow can be reached at email@example.com.