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Duke 20, BC 19

BC left feeling even more blue

Missed kicks costly as Eagles drop to 0-3

BC kicker Nate Freese watches his 23-yard field goal attempt hit the left upright in the final minute of a 20-19 loss to Duke. Freese also missed an extra point. BC kicker Nate Freese watches his 23-yard field goal attempt hit the left upright in the final minute of a 20-19 loss to Duke. Freese also missed an extra point. (Stephan Savoia/Associated Press)
By Mark Blaudschun
Globe Staff / September 18, 2011

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It was all set up for a storybook finish.

Early lead squandered. Down to one final effort to avoid the ignominy of an 0-3 start.

All Nate Freese had to do was kick a 23-yard field goal - slightly off-angle but not much farther than an extra point attempt - and Boston College would have not only have survived a comeback by Duke, it would have its first victory in a season that had rapidly turned south on Frank Spaziani’s Eagles.

It didn’t happen. Freese’s attempt bounced off the left upright and Duke preserved a 20-19 victory yesterday at Alumni Stadium as the Eagles got off to their worst start since 1991.

“I was trying to get the ball up,’’ said Freese. “I did that, but it caught the inside of my toe a little bit, it hooked left, and ended up hitting the upright.’’

What was even more frustrating for the Eagles was that the game, like their opener against Northwestern, was very winnable. BC, whose offense disappeared in last week’s 30-3 loss to Central Florida, surged to a 19-7 lead late in the second quarter.

But then the offensive faucet was shut off by a Duke team that was looking for its first win after losses to Championship Subdivision opponent Richmond and Pac-12 powerhouse Stanford.

“They did what they had to do to win,’’ said Spaziani. “They came up a point ahead.

“It was disappointing, I thought our guys fought hard again, but we didn’t make enough plays.’’

No they didn’t. On offense and defense.

Defensively, the beleaguered Eagles allowed 465 yards. That’s following the 424 yards allowed against Northwestern and the 422 against Central Florida.

“I don’t think there was a breakdown,’’ said BC linebacker Luke Kuechly, who again was a one-man demolition crew with 23 tackles, 17 of them solo. “They were chipping on us. That’s kind of what we wanted to happen. The reason why they scored was two big plays. If you want to play football on defense, you can’t let plays cut you up and that’s what happened.’’

The two plays - scoring passes of 53 and 21 yards from Sean Renfree (40 of 52, 359 yards) to Conner Vernon (six catches, 116 yards) - wiped out a 19-7 edge that BC had built on a 31-yard TD pass from Chase Rettig to Tahj Kimble and a 7-yard TD run by Andre Williams. Freese missed the extra point following Williams’s score, and that became a crucial play.

Still, BC held the lead until Renfree scored on a 1-yard keeper to push the Blue Devils ahead, 20-19, with 9:57 left.

It was time for Rettig and the offense to do something and do it quickly. But, as in the previous two games, they couldn’t.

Rettig’s last chance came when BC took over on its 21 with 2:24 to play and no timeouts remaining. On third and 10, Rettig hit Colin Larmond Jr. with a 30-yard completion, and a 15-yard roughing the passer penalty brought the Eagles to the Duke 34.

A run by Kimble brought the ball to the 31. Williams then carried to the 14, where Rettig spiked the ball with 1:01 left. Williams went up the middle for 9 yards, and Duke called time out to regroup with 52 seconds left.

Williams was stopped at the line of scrimmage on third and 1, and Freese came on for his attempt at the winner.

“Obviously, it hurts,’’ said Rettig. “But we should have been down in that area in the second half a lot more than just at the end of the game.

“It’s not just one thing, it’s a series of things that we just have to be better at.’’

Spaziani, who watched Freese miss two field goals against Northwestern, could only shake his head and offer support to his players.

“I told him what Mo [Mariano] Rivera says,’’ said Spaziani, referring to the New York Yankees closer. “If you are going to be successful in sports, you have to have a short memory.’’

Unfortunately for BC, the Eagles’ memories this season are all painful.

“If you think about the three losses then it distracts you from what you need to do,’’ said Kuechly. “And that is to get our first win this week.’’

Mark Blaudschun can be reached at blaudschun@globe.com.