LAS CRUCES, N.M. (AP) — The last thing Boston College expected was that it would be locked in a struggle in Saturday’s non-conference game at New Mexico State.
Yet there the Eagles were, tied 27-27 with the one-win Aggies early in the fourth quarter at a sun-drenched Aggie Memorial Stadium in the first-ever meeting between the teams.
That’s when Boston College put things in the hands of its best player, tailback Andre Williams, who scored on two long runs late in the final quarter to help the Eagles pull away from a stubborn NMSU team and escape with a 48-34 victory.
Williams, the leading rusher in the ACC and No. 2 in the nation among FBS players in yards per game coming into the day, finished with 30 carries for 295 yards and two touchdowns, setting a single-game school record.
His two biggest carries, though, were the scoring runs that came on plays of 80 and 47 yards, both with less than a minute to go in the game, and broke a 34-34 tie.
Still, it was not an easy day for Williams or the Eagles, who talked about the difficulty of playing at altitude on a warm day and before a small crowd of 14,997.
‘‘I wasn’t really sure what to expect,’’ Williams said. ‘‘One of the hardest things of the whole battle was the atmosphere. We had to bring our own energy.
‘‘Luckily, we were able to get past that, physically and mentally and come up with some success.’’
NMSU head coach Doug Martin, who was the offensive coordinator at Boston College last year after holding the same position two years ago with the Aggies, had his team ready. Although Williams was piling up big rushing numbers, he didn’t score until two of his final three carries of the day against an NMSU defense that the Eagles finally wore down.
And this against an NMSU defense that is ranked last in the nation in total defense and rushing defense.
‘‘He (Williams) is a great back,’’ Martin said of the Boston College back. ‘‘He’s going to be an NFL player. Those two explosion runs were the difference in the game.’’
Boston College (5-4) won for the second week in a row, following a win against Virginia Tech last week. However, it wasn’t easy against NMSU (1-9).
In the first-ever meeting between the teams, the Eagles led only 20-17 at the half and 27-24 going into the fourth quarter.
A 32-yard field goal by Maxwell Johnson of NMSU tied the game at 27-27 early in the fourth quarter, but as they'd done almost all afternoon the Eagles answered an Aggie score with one of their own.
This time, it was a 98-yard kickoff return for a score by Myles Willis, who stumbled near his own 23-yard line and then broke outside and raced —untouched— the rest of the way. That put the Eagles back ahead at 34-27.
‘‘I knew if they kicked it short I could take it to the house,’’ said Willis of the first return touchdown of his football career. Williams said he watched on the jumbotron to see if there was any pursuit, and that he enjoyed it. ‘‘That’s something I always dreamed of doing.’’
Still, the Aggies, who had the Boston College defense on its heels for much of the game, refused to go away. NMSU drove 75 yards in six plays to tie the score at 34-34. Quarterback Andrew McDonald hit all-purpose threat Austin Franklin on a post route that covered 49 yards for the tying touchdown.
McDonald was 41 of 55 passing for 384 yards and three touchdowns (both career-highs), two of which went to Franklin.
The Aggies looked to take control on the next series when Bryan Bonilla recovered a fumble by Boston College receiver Alex Amidon.
The Eagles, however, forced NMSU into a three-and-out on a critical series. The ensuing punt left Boston College at its own 3-yard line.
That’s when Williams stepped up. After an offside penalty on the Aggies and a 12-yard pass from Chase Rettig to C.J. Parsons, Williams took a handoff up the middle and shot through the line and all the way down the field untouched for a 41-34 lead.
Linebacker Steven Daniels sealed things for the Eagles when he intercepted McDonald on the fourth play of the next series. Two plays later, Williams again broke free, this time for a 47-yard run to the right side that made it 48-34 and finally closed the book on a game that surprisingly turned into a shootout.
For the Aggies, who are scheduled to join the Sun Belt Conference next year, it was a tough pill to swallow as they played one of their best games of the season in a schedule that includes four games against major-conference teams.
‘‘What I love about our guys is that they compete,’’ Martin said, who talked about how this team is laying a foundation for the future.Continued...