CLEMSON, S.C. They had so many things go against them the past two weeks. Back-to-back losses that dropped them in the rankings and put them into survival mode, a series of injuries on the defensive side that left them shorthanded at linebacker and extremely thin in the secondary.
Yet none of that seemed to matter to Boston College coach Jeff Jagodzinskis football team last night as his Eagles came to Clemsons Memorial Stadium last night chasing the same goal they had when they began the season in the heat of the summer Sept. 1.
What the Eagles want is the Atlantic Coast Conference crown. Now, with a 20-17 victory last night, achieving that is possible since they secured a spot in the ACC championship game Dec. 1 in Jacksonville, Fla.
All they had to do was beat a Clemson team that had won four straight games as they, too, were chasing the ACC title, something they had not won since 1991.
All the Eagles had to do was stop a revived Clemson offense that had beaten its last four opponents by an average of 35 points.
All they had to do was fix some of the defensive lapses that had exploded on them during the 42-35 loss at Maryland last weekend.
And, once again, all they had to do was let quarterback Matt Ryan do what he does as well as any BC quarterback since Doug Flutie: win games in the final seconds.
That was precisely what happened last night, much to the dismay of the crowd of 81,500. They watched in stunned silence as Ryans 43-yard TD pass to Rich Gunnell with 1:46 left gave BC (9-2, 6-1) a come-from-behind victory over the Tigers and a spot in the tix tle game against the winner of next weeks Virginia-Virginia Tech matchup.
This is great, said jubilant BC athletic director Gene DeFilippo. We havent won a game we needed to win in a long, long time.
Make no mistake, the Eagles needed to win this one desperately. Back-to-back losses to Florida State and Maryland had spoiled their unbeaten season and jarred their confidence. A series of injuries had decimated the defense. And Clemson was as hot as any team in the ACC.
Clemson got the ball one more time, but the Tigers drive was hurt by three successive dropped passes including one for a sure touchdown by Aaron Kelly. Still, they were in field goal range. Facing third and 7 from BCs 31, Roderick Rollins blitzed from the left corner and sacked Cullen Harper at the 38, setting up a game-tying try from 54 yards by Mark Buchholz. It landed well short about the distance of the sack short.
Clemson took an early lead and then BC fought its way back slowly and at a disadvantage in numbers.
The Eagles were playing with injured linebackers Jo-Lonn Dunbar and Tyronne Pruitt (ankles), and without cornerback DeJuan Tribble (knee), long snapper Jack Geiser (knee), and kick returner Jeff Smith (head). They played a relatively mistake-free first half, trailing only 7-3.
Clemson (9-2, 5-3) built a 10-3 lead in the third quarter before Ryan took the Eagles on their first TD drive of the evening.
The Eagles defense contained Clemson most of the game, a marked contrast to last weeks 42-35 loss at Maryland, which was close only because Ryan engineered an aborted comeback.
These kids have me close to tears, said defensive coordinator Frank Spaziani, who mixed and matched combinations all night. They are so tough.
Trailing, 10-3, as the game moved into the fourth quarter, the Eagles were marching toward what it hoped would be a game-tying score. It finally came two minutes into the frame when James McCluskey ended an 11-play, 80-yard scoring march with a 2-yard plunge.
With 13:37 left in the fourth quarter, a game featuring a rivalry that had produced overtime games in their last two meetings was tied at 10.
With the crowd silenced, Boston College struck again as linebacker Kevin Akins picked off Harper, ending a streak of 133 throws without an interception.
Taking over on the Clemson 44, Ryan tried to go in for a go-ahead score as the clock ticked toward the end of regulation with that spot in the ACC title game at stake.
All season long the Eagles goal had been clear.
I told them this morning at breakfast about why they call it a glass feeling, he said. I told them its glass for a reason. You can break through it.
The Eagles did, but it took time. With the scored tied and visions of overtime dancing in lots of peoples heads, Ryan brought the Eagles to the Clemson 13 using a clutch fourth-and-5 pass to Brandon Robinson on the Clemson 29 to keep the drive going before Steve Aponavicius kicked a 30-yard field goal with 9:01 left to give BC a 13-10 lead.
Time for Clemson to react, which the Tigers did quickly. The Tigers went 56 yards in 10 plays and scored on a 4-yard keeper by Harper with 5:28 remaining to regain the lead at 17-13.
Again, as it has been all season, it was on the shoulders of Ryan to produce what, in this case, was a championship drive.
But this was going to be the ultimate curtain call of his career, with everything at stake.
He kept telling us all week to just give him a chance, give him a chance, said Dunbar, who was playing with a severe ankle sprain that had forced him to miss last weeks game against Maryland.
Thats what weve done all season, said Ryan. Our goal has always been the same.
Starting at the Eagles 29, Ryan, who was sacked five times, tried to work his magic once again. Two clutch third-down passes to Clarence Megwa moved the ball past midfield as the clock ticked under two minutes. And then, with 1:43 left, Ryan found a wide-open Gunnell, giving the Eagles back the lead and, in the end, their tickets to Jacksonville.
Mark Blaudschun can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.