|This second-half sack was emblematic of a frustrating day for BC's Matt Ryan, who couldn't beat Virginia Tech a second time. (Barry Chin/Globe Staff)|
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Matt Ryan's brilliant career at Boston College seemed to come full circle in yesterday's 30-16 loss to Virginia Tech in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game. The fifth-year senior quarterback's 305-yard passing performance was blemished by the two interceptions he threw in the final 2:16, the latter resulting in a 40-yard touchdown return by linebacker Xavier Adibi.
Ryan was three seasons removed from his first career start, when he was thrown into the breach as a skinny redshirt freshman. He had been summoned to take the reins for Paul Peterson, who was out with a broken thumb, in the season finale against a wounded Syracuse team with the Big East title on the line.
The Orange not only ruined Ryan's debut start, they also foiled BC's bid to win the Big East in its last year in the league by pinning the Eagles with a humiliating 43-17 setback at Alumni Stadium.
"Honestly, it feels like it was yesterday," Ryan said. "That day, not a lot went right for us, and they handled us pretty good, and it was a frustrating day.
"Any time you don't get the job done when there's a lot on the line, it's tough. You're disappointed and you're frustrated."
Asked how nervous he was for his first start as opposed to yesterday, with the ACC title at stake, Ryan said, "It's not even close. Night and day, with just your emotional preparation going into that game. Back then, you just don't know, and when you don't know, it's tough to be confident."
When Ryan took the field yesterday, he was the ACC's Player of the Year. He was the best quarterback in the league, commanding respect from all precincts.
"Everybody on this defense, everybody in this stadium, and everybody in the nation knows what kind of quarterback Matt Ryan is," said Tech cornerback Brandon Flowers. "You give him time, he'll make great throws. He made great throws today, putting it into tight spots where only his receivers could make the catch."
No one had doubted Ryan's arm, or his credentials, or his courage, after he played through a broken left foot to guide the Eagles to a 10-win season as a junior, and to impressive wins at Georgia Tech, at Virginia Tech, and at Clemson this season, fueling Heisman Trophy talk.
So when the Eagles faced a fourth-and-4 from the Tech 13 late in the game, no one on the BC side doubted their leader.
"We were so calm and collected and none of the guys doubted that we were going to score on that drive," said wideout Kevin Challenger.
But this time there was no Matt Ryan Magic. There was no miraculous last-gasp heave into the end zone for a winning touchdown, as Ryan had completed to Andre Callender in a 14-10 victory over the Hokies Oct. 25 in Blacksburg, Va.
But instead of throwing for two touchdowns with two minutes to go, Ryan got picked twice in the final two minutes, first by linebacker Vince Hall on the fourth-and-4 prayer to Challenger with 2:16 left. Then by Adibi, who plucked a third-and-10 deflection by defensive tackle Barry Booker out of the air and returned it for an insurance score with 11 seconds left.
"You're never out of it until it's over, and we know that, and we play that way," Ryan said. "It was just frustrating that we weren't able to get the job done today."
If there was one consolation, it was that Ryan still has another game to play as an Eagle.
"You got to deal with it and bounce back and continue to work," Ryan said. "It's going to be important for us to get back to practice and to improve and to get ready for the bowl game coming up.
"It's been a ride, a great ride, and I've certainly enjoyed the guys I've played with, but it's unbelievable to me that it's coming to an end. It doesn't feel like it.
"I love the place so much and I owe it a lot because it gave me so many opportunities and I'm thankful I had the opportunity to be at BC."
Michael Vega can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.