WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — His helmet should have seen it coming.
Chase Rettig watched three of his passes get picked off. He was sacked, stripped, and unable to recover his fumble in an eye blink, and overall he coughed the ball up more than he had in any game in his Boston College career.
When the time finally ran down on the Eagles’ 28-14 loss to Wake Forest on Saturday, Rettig jogged off the field angry with how it all played out, slamming his helmet into the facade behind the end zone at BB&T Field on the way to the locker room.
“It’s just a frustrating day with that play and me today, obviously,” Rettig said.
No one is more obsessive about protecting the football than the Eagles’ junior quarterback. He’ll throw the ball away or eat a sack before risking a turnover. It’s the reason he came into the game with the second-fewest interceptions among Atlantic Coast Conference quarterbacks.
He had thrown multiple picks in just two of his previous 21 games. So for a team with the thinnest possible margin of error to qualify for a bowl game, Rettig’s mistakes weren’t just uncharacteristic, they were costly.
The list of things that have malfunctioned for the Eagles this season — from the defense to the running game — is long. But Rettig has been the team’s most consistent player, the centerpiece of a retooled offense. In that sense, when he finally faltered it made it even more difficult for the Eagles (2-7, 1-5) to overcome.
“There was too much pressure on him,” said BC coach Frank Spaziani. “His performance, he’ll be the first one to tell you, needs to be a little bit better, but we’ve got to help him a little bit more. We made it a little bit too rough on him. Guys are human, too.”
Rettig threw for 357 yards on 29-of-49 passing with a touchdown. But the numbers were irrelevant.
“The stats are going to be there,” he said. “But it doesn’t matter what the stats are. It doesn’t outweigh the fact that we turned over the football.”
Needing two wins to become bowl eligible, the Demon Deacons (5-4, 3-4) played like a team that was starving.
They turned Rettig over on the Eagles’ first two possessions.
The first one was an interception at midfield on a pass intended for Chris Pantale. Cornerback Kevin Johnson jumped the route and gave the Deacons the ball at the BC 48.
“I had pressure in my face,” Rettig said. “I probably forced it.”
It set up an 11-play scoring drive capped by a 5-yard touchdown pass from Tanner Price to Michael Campanaro, the first of their three first-half scoring connections.
Campanaro, who was questionable with a broken hand and also was dealing with an ankle injury, caught 16 passes — tying an ACC record and setting a program mark — for 123 yards, sparking an offense that went for 409 yards altogether.
The issues that have handicapped the Eagles all season didn’t change. The defense was flimsy on third down. The on-again, off-again running game was off again (when feature back Andre Williams left in the second quarter with an abdominal injury, Spaziani was left with freshman David Dudeck). The offense struggled to convert on third down.
All season, Rettig has found ways to move the ball, but on Saturday he had issues of his own.
On his second pick, Rettig was looking for Johnathan Coleman deep over the middle but misread the play. The ball was hawked by middle linebacker Mike Olson.
“I just saw it differently than it probably played downfield,” he said.
It cost the Eagles nothing, but after nearly losing a fumble late in the second quarter Rettig was hit hard again before the half, and this time BC wasn’t as fortunate.
Defensive end Zach Thompson sacked Rettig and stripped him in the process. Thompson smothered the fumble to give Wake the ball at the BC 15.
The Demon Deacons nearly botched a gift-wrapped opportunity (a false start and a fumble), but Price and Campanaro connected on a 16-yard touchdown that put them up, 21-7, at the half.
“I thought our defense played well and they wouldn’t have scored as many points if we would have put them in better situations,” Rettig said. “It was just something about momentum and smelling the end zone. We put them in a couple of situations like that and they were able to take advantage of it.
“We can’t put our defense in those situations because they played well tonight.”
The Eagles have spent the season trying to dig out of holes and realizing the ditches were too deep. This was no different.
“We had entirely too many turnovers for who we are to get it done,” Spaziani said.