It was clear to Frank Spaziani that his team was gasping for life. Boston College had lost five straight games and was staring down its worst start in 23 years.
Road losses to Army, Florida State, and Georgia Tech seemed to have the team on the brink of life support.
There was an urgency in coming home and trying to figure out a way to earn its first Atlantic Coast Conference win against a Maryland team that was dealing with its own issues.
“It was like the next breath of air,” Spaziani said. “We were at the end of our rope.”
Trailing, 17-13, with 4:45 left, the Eagles were hanging on by frayed threads.
Quarterback Chase Rettig had been sacked four times. The running game accounted for all of 8 yards. The Terrapins had willed their way to a lead behind a savage defense and a freshman fill-in quarterback, Caleb Rowe, who was playing over his head.
Rowe’s 66-yard touchdown pass to Stefon Diggs with 8:47 left in the fourth quarter forced the Eagles to either respond to a pressurized situation or watch their season continue to spiral.
They believed they had enough time to assemble a go-ahead drive.
“Coach [Doug] Martin always says, let it come down to two minutes left and we have the ball and [Rettig’s] going to take us any day to win the game,” said wide receiver Alex Amidon. “So that’s kind of been our mind-set.”
Amidon has been Rettig’s go-to receiver all season, and on a 13-play, 85-yard drive in which Rettig completed 8 of 12 passes for 92 yards and converted twice on third down, he hooked up with Amidon four times to march the Eagles to within striking distance.
On second and 5 from the Maryland 14, Rettig gave Amidon another look, but pump-faked and instead went to junior receiver Johnathan Coleman in the flat for a 14-yard touchdown pass with 52 seconds remaining that gave BC a 20-17 win. It was a play they had run all day and the Terrapins continually tried to jump Amidon’s slant pattern.
“They just forgot about me,” said Coleman.
Many of the issues that have haunted the Eagles all season were still there. The running game abandonded them. Running back Andre Williams fumbled at the goal line on BC’s second possession of the game, squandering a chance to take a two-touchdown lead.
Still, BC was able to pull out its first conference win as well as its first win against a Football Bowl Subdivision opponent, taking some of the sting off a season that’s dealt the Eagles some brutal blows.
“It’s just tough,” Rettig said. “The last five weeks have been tough, obviously. It’s just nice that we finally put it together at the end of the game there.”
Rettig finished 21 of 39 for 287 yards and two scores, dueling with Rowe, who went 23 of 42 for 240 yards and two touchdowns but threw three interceptions, the last to Spenser Rositano with 39 seconds left that sealed it.
Rowe was the Terrapins’ starting quarterback by attrition. C.J. Brown was at the top of the depth chart before the season, then tore his ACL before the opener. Perry Hills started the first seven games, then shredded his ACL last week against N.C. State. Devin Burns replaced Hills and broke his foot. Maryland coach Randy Edsall didn’t announce Rowe as the starter until Friday.
“I thought he competed,” Edsall said. “You can see the inexperience a little bit . . . He’ll get better for this and he’ll learn from it.”
In the fourth quarter, Rettig handed Maryland a chance to put the game away. The Eagles came up empty on their first 10 third downs, and didn’t convert until the fourth quarter, when Rettig found Chris Pantale for an 8-yard completion. The next play, Rettig coughed up the football after being sacked by defensive end Joe Vellano.
Vellano hit Rettig on the arm and everything went haywire.
“It’s like, ‘I need to find the football!’ ” the quarterback said. “Couldn’t find the football.”
Defensive end A.J. Francis found it first, giving Maryland the ball at the Eagles 39. But the BC defense, embattled all season, forced a crucial three-and-out, giving the offense a chance to score the go-ahead touchdown.
BC stopped the Terrapins on 13 of 18 third downs, gave up 337 yards of total offense (a season low against an FBS opponent), and forced three turnovers.
“It was a big momentum swing,” said linebacker Nick Clancy. “The attitude of our defense was almost like we wanted to be out there. I’ve never seen our D-linemen so fired up to get back on the field and our DBs so ready to play. It’s like we wanted to be out there on the field, and we wanted the game on our shoulders.”
It’s one win. BC’s only conference win and FBS win. But it provided much-needed oxygen in a season where losses have been suffocating.
“It doesn’t fix everything but it feels awesome,” Amidon said. “We’re 1-0 today. That’s how I think about it.”
Julian Benbow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.