MOUNT PLEASANT, Mich. -- After Boston College's 31-24 season-opening victory over Central Michigan last night -- its second in three years against a Mid-American Conference opponent on enemy turf -- the Eagles were reminded of the similar circumstances they overcame in a triumph over Boise State in the MPC Computers Bowl last December more so than their opening win at Ball State two years ago.
``It was the spitting image of Boise, honestly," junior linebacker Jolonn Dunbar said of BC's escape against the upset-minded Chippewas in a nationally televised game that was the home team's first under the lights at Kelly/Shorts Stadium.
``They brought us here and wanted to take a shot at the moon," said BC coach Tom O'Brien, who improved his career record at BC to 67-42 and is two shy of passing Joe Yukica (68-37, 1968-1977) as the school's all-time winningest coach. ``They took it, but we still came away with the victory."
Junior quarterback Matt Ryan (32 of 48, 323 yards, 3 touchdowns) seemed to put last night's game under wraps when he expanded a 17-3 halftime lead to 31-10 after completing fourth-quarter touchdown passes of 24 yards to Kevin Challenger (6 catches, 61 yards) and 19 yards to a diving Tony Gonzalez (5 catches, 66 yards) with 10:11 to go.
``We've come to expect that out of Matt," said O'Brien, whose team will host Clemson in its Atlantic Coast Conference and home opener a week from tomorrow at Alumni Stadium. ``He came in and started those three games at the end of last year and he's got a lot of experience and he plays with a lot of confidence and there were a lot of holes to throw the ball in there and he threw the ball in there."
Just as was the case at Boise, BC was forced to sweat out the victory when the Chippewas, led by redshirt freshman backup QB Dan LeFevour, mounted a furious 14-point rally in the fourth quarter to pull within a touchdown.
Just as safety Ryan Glasper did in Boise, junior linebacker Brian Toal sealed the victory with a game-ending interception on a wild play in which the Chippewas tried to create some defensive chaos by lining up their offensive lineman on the left hash and had all their eligible receivers on the right hash.
``Those plays are either hoorays or bad news," O'Brien said. ``It was a hooray for us."
And, in each instance, the Eagles were happy to get out of town with a precious victory.
``Yeah, it was a similar-type situation," agreed Ryan, who recorded the first 300-yard game of his career and extended his winning streak as a starter to six games. ``They came back towards the end, played well in the fourth quarter, and our defense stepped up and made a play at the end of the game.
While Ryan clearly shined, he was very nearly upstaged by LeFevour, a redshirt freshman who was thrown into the fire on the second play of the game when junior starter Brian Brunner was sandwiched by junior Nick Larkin and Dunbar and was forced to leave the game.
CMU coach Brian Kelly had hoped to play three QBs last night, including redshirt freshman Duane Brooks, but had his options pared to two when Brunner was injured. ``Let me tell you about my first year in coaching," O'Brien said, recalling his days as an assistant at his alma mater, the US Naval Academy. ``We went to Pitt and their quarterback was a guy named Rick Trocano. We knocked him out. You know who the backup was? Dan Marino. He went about 20 of 30.
``The thing for them was that they planned to play three quarterbacks. That all added to what we had to defend."
LeFevour seemed to channel Marino as he completed 22 of 37 passes for 221 yards, 1 touchdown (a 13-yarder to Ontario Sneed that made it 17-10 in the third quarter) and 1 interception. He also confounded the Eagles by rushing 14 times for 72 yards and a pair of fourth-quarter TDs on runs of 1 and 2 yards in the final 8:12. LeFevour accounted for 293 of CMU's 366 yards of total offense.
``He made a couple of runs," said O'Brien, noting LeFevour's 41-yard run that set up Rick Albreski's 21-yard field goal, which answered a 44-yarder by Ryan Ohliger in the first quarter. ``We got caught in the blitz and guys weren't where they were supposed to and he probably got 100 yards on blitzes."
Toal broke the tie when he capped an 11-play, 80-yard drive (in which Ryan was 6 of 7 for 70 yards) with a 1-yard plunge on second and goal. Then, after Kelly inexplicably went for a fourth-and-8 attempt from the CMU 27, BC took over and made it 17-3 when tight end Ryan Purvis scooped up an L.V. Whitworth fumbled reception at the 3 and took it in.
It set the stage for a wild second half in which the Eagles opened up a 31-10 lead with 10:11 to go, only to watch it nearly evaporate.
``We did get a little complacent once we got a big lead," Dunbar said. ``We just felt like we could relax and cruise through this, but you definitely can't do that against a team like this or any team on our schedule.
``We can't do that next week, the week after and the week after that," Dunbar added. ``No way. Next week, Clemson will put 40 on us or something."