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ON COLLEGE FOOTBALL

A painful fall from ACC heights

Loss drops Eagles back in the pack

RALEIGH, N.C. -- Boston College brought its football team into Carter-Finley Stadium last night wearing a different hat -- that of the favorite.

Not just in the game. But for the entire season in an Atlantic Coast Conference that looks as much up for grabs as that onside kick that was botched by the officials in last week's Oregon-Oklahoma game.

Oh, the marquee teams are still the marquee teams -- defending champion Florida State, and Big East refugees Miami and Virginia Tech. But three weeks into a season that is just finding its rhythm, BC has as good a record as Virginia Tech and a better record than FSU and Miami, who look more vulnerable than they have in the last three seasons, or since BC joined the ACC.

BC already had a win over Clemson, which had a win over FSU, which put BC in control of its path in the ACC Atlantic Division. FSU coach Bobby Bowden conceded that last week after losing to Clemson. ``Boston College is in control right now," he said.

But last night that changed dramatically -- and emphatically -- as North Carolina State scored the winning touchdown with 8 seconds left to give the Wolfpack a 17-15 victory and end the Eagles' string of incredible winning finishes.

This loss stands up there with unexpected losses to North Carolina, Wake Forest, and Syracuse in the past few years.

The loss also cost the Eagles all the respect they tried to achieve during their first three games.

On Tobacco Road, change comes slowly, as evidenced by the display in the ACC store at the Raleigh-Durham airport, which has yet to give BC its own merchandise cubicle (you can find BC T-shirts in the Maryland section).

Yes, respect takes a while. The BC basketball team didn't really receive it until the final weekend of the ACC tournament last March in Greensboro after beating North Carolina on Saturday and taking Duke into the final seconds Sunday before losing.

Suddenly, the entire country seemed to discover the Eagles, who became a trendy Final Four pick in many brackets.

Football is going to take a little longer. The Eagles went into last night's game ranked No. 20, after a nail-chewing win over Central Michigan and back-to-back double-overtime wins over Clemson and BYU.

What they needed to earn more respect --Clemson was ranked No. 18 despite the Eagles' victory two weeks ago -- was a convincing victory, not one decided in double overtime aided by a replay call.

They didn't get it as they huffed and puffed to a 9-3 halftime lead, fell behind, 10-9, regained the lead, 15-10, then lost it as the final seconds ticked off the clock.

And those seconds ticked off with N.C. State QB Daniel Evans completing a 34-yard prayer to John Dunlap, turning what would have been a sweet victory into an excruciating defeat.

It was made tougher for the Eagles, considering the game started in their favor with a first-quarter touchdown.

Adding to the drama was the setting. A hostile environment, against a team that needed the win more than the Eagles, and a coach, Chuck Amato, whose seat was getting warmer each week with losses to Akron and Southern Mississippi.

The hope of Eagles coach Tom O'Brien and his staff was that the Eagles had the right attitude, and that QB Matt Ryan had reached new heights of confidence, that the team could win on the road.

And that is why the game was such a crossroads moment for the Eagles as they attempted to scale the heights of the ACC.

Last night, the Eagles painfully found out that they still have some distance to go before they can move to the next echelon in the ACC.

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