Five Things We Learned On A Resilient Day In The Heights

September 26, 2009 - 5:42 pm
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CHESTNUT HILL -- The best prize fighters are the ones who can take a hit, have their backs against the ropes, bounce back and deliver a knockout blow. As far as the Eagles were down last week, they came back this week to set the record straight. Rather than acting defeated in the wake of their loss to Clemson seven days earlier, the Eagles proved resilient enough to put themselves back on the upswing this week against Wake Forest. Boston College won an overtime thriller in Alumni Stadium, 27-24, to improve to 3-1 on the season and restore a sense of order in the Heights. The Eagles almost let this one slip away. They were able to put up a field goal in the first set of overtime and set the defense up for the win if only it could stop the Demon Deacons or hold them to a field goal. That almost did not happen. Wake Forest pushed Boston College back, back again and back some more with runs to the inside, setting itself up for the victory with a first and goal on the four-yard line. A sense of doom pervaded. Then, as quickly as it seemed that the game was lost, Wake Forest quarterback Riley Skinner botched a handoff and was stripped by sophomore cornerback Isaac Johnson. The ball bounced into the flat and was landed on by Eagles' junior free safety Wes Davis. Game over. "We were on the ropes, we were on the ropes. Certainly, it was a first-and-goal on the five and just trying to make a play," head coach Frank Spaziani said. "It looked like a little confusion and we were aggressive. Confusion and being aggressive and something good happened for us." It seemed like Boston College had everything well in hand in the fourth quarter. It had broken the game open with 9:42 left when quarterback David Shinskie finished off a 13 -lay, 74-yard drive with a 17-yard completion to Colin Larmond Jr. to give the Eagles a 14-point lead. With the way that the Boston College defense has been playing to start the season (one touchdown allowed to an opposing offense entering the game), it was a good bet that it could hold on to the lead for the remainder of the game. It did not. There is a reason that Skinner is considered one of the best in the nation. The great ones never let their teams go down without a fight and Skinner brought Wake Forest back to tie the game at 24 and force overtime. But Wake Forest would not go silently. In a fashion befitting his reputation, Skinner earned his stars in the final two minutes of the game. Facing 80 yards for the tie with 1:46 left and no timeouts, the star quarterback went to work. He hit his receivers in out routes that, for the most part, were able to get out of bounds to stop the clock. Skinner alternated throws to his go-to guy, Marshall Williams, along with Chris Givens and Josh Adams. With 11 seconds left Skinner hit Williams from 16 yards out to tie the game. "Our two-minute offense was very efficient," Skinner said. "We moved the ball down the field pretty quickly and got two scored which helped us get back in the game." Boston College never quit. Even with Skinner doing his mega-star act, they never got down and ended up being rewarded for its efforts. "It is what we are trying to get across to this team. How young they are, how inexperienced," Spaziani said. "You work hard, you work hard, you work hard and you just never, ever, ever give up. You play every play and today was a perfect example. Hopefully we learned from it." The events of the game were certainly a good lesson for the Eagles. They learned that they have the resilience to come back from a bad loss, a bad series and a couple bad plays and if they grind it out, good things will happen. The perfect example of this came at the end of the first half. Boston College started the game with 10 straight points on the strength of Shinskie's arm and the running of Montel Harris and Josh Haden. Then the Eagles watched it slip away. Wake Forest lightning sophomore running back Brandon Pendergrass got going, banging a straight handoff through the middle into a 76-yard touchdown run, virtually untouched. Shinskie then threw an interception and Wake Forest drove 36 yards for a game-tying field goal. Shinskie did not want the half to end like that. "I said before that drive that we are not going into halftime without a score," Shinskie said. "I think the line and the receivers and I and the running backs took it personal and we need to kick it up on offense and that is what we did." So, the word of the day on Chestnut Hill was resilience. The Eagles should feel better about themselves knowing they can take a blow and come back with a counter-punch to win a game. Here are four other things we learned on the day that Boston College evened its record in the ACC . . . Shinskie Steps Up Last week was not good for Shinskie. Really, it was not good for anyone on the Eagles offense. Shinskie played two series against Clemson, had two fumbles (one lost) and ceded the position to Justin Tuggle. The offense as a whole netted 54 total yards. It was just a bad day in Death Valley. This week was different. Shinskie got the start in front of the home crowd and had it going from the beginning. On the first drive of the game he led the Eagles down the field on 13 plays for 57 yards in 5:55 for and opening field goal. Shinskie went 3-for-5 on the drive for 36 yards with two completions to senior captain Rich Gunnell, one for 20 yards, another nine yards. One series and Boston College had already beaten their offensive output against Clemson. On the day Shinskie went 18-for-29 with 228 yards, three touchdowns and the one interception. He utilized his tight ends and his wide receivers. Wide receiver Justin Jarvis was the leader on the day with five catches for 66 yards while Gunnell hauled in five for 51 yards. Tight ends Chris Pantale and Jordon McMichael had touchdown catches. Colin Larmond Jr.  had three catches for 31 yards and a touchdown as well. The play of the day, except for the fumble recovery at the end of course, was Shinskie's first touchdown pass to McMichael. Shinskie found McMichael running down the seam in a route that had two wide receiver comebacks. Shinskie unleashed, a little high, but it led McMichael, who used all of his 6-foot-5 frame to reach out with one hand and pluck the ball from the ether. From there it was a dash to the end zone for the 50-yard score. "I saw that the free safety was back pretty far," Shinskie said. "I threw it over the linebacker. I never saw a tight end run that fast. They get open all the time, I just have to get it to them." It was a reaffirming day for Shinskie, a personal growth as he makes the transition from minor-league pitcher to college quarterback. He still has some problems, like his tendency to deliver the ball up, but it was a good step for the quarterback. "He confirmed a lot of the stuff we knew about him. We knew he had the athletic ability. We knew he could make plays," Spaziani said. "What we didn't know was when the bullets start going what's going to happen. There are a lot of guys with athletic ability . . . but you have to do it under fire. We saw him make some plays. He looked up the field. He didn't look like he was away from football for seven years." Defensive Psyche Intact It would have been easy for the Eagles defense to fold, walk away and explain that they went up against a great quarterback and just got beat. But they did not. "We had a pretty good control of the game. Wake Forest is a very intelligent team and I think that our coaches fine-tuned the defense and it ended up going pretty well," Davis said. "It would have been a terrible way  to lose, especially one you felt you had a pretty good grasp on." On the day that co-captain Mike McLaughlin came back from an Achilles injury, it was still freshman Luke Kuechly who shined. Kuechly, playing special teams as well as giving breathers to McLaughlin, had nine tackles (six solo, three assisted). He was a force in the kicking game, delivering some of the most jarring hits of the day and had another solid performance. The big test for the defense was to try and not get picked apart by Skinner and, until the last nine minutes of the fourth quarter, they were able to do that. But when Skinner got going, it was tough to keep him down. Since the Eagles defensive unit is so young, a comeback loss could have been a significant blow to its psyche. "They were at a crucial point with their psyche, I will tell you that right there," Spaziani said. "That [end of the game stop] helps their psyche. Defensively, the problems are still there, what we saw last spring and in preseason, they are still there . . . we will learn from it and go forward. But it is always better to learn when you win." Flash And Dash or the 1-2 Punch? We are still trying to figure out a good nickname for the sophomore running back duo of Montel Harris and Josh Haden. H and H? How about the Horse and Hound? Either way, what we learned today is that Boston College is committed to keeping the ball on the ground. The combo ran the ball 42 times for a combined net total of 169 yards (Haden 17 for 93 and Harris 25 for 76). "I like it," Haden said of the duo. "Some people call it the '1-2 Punch.' When Montel is in, he sees me getting pumped up on the sidelines and when I'm in, I see him doing the same thing. I think it's a really good setup. It keeps us both strong. We aren't tired when we go in and if we are, we can just switch it. It works well." Haden was the firecracker in this one. He would take handoffs from Shinskie and break to the outside for big yards. Whether it was by design or not, Haden always was able to find the corner. It was especially evident when he got his first carries in the second quarter. It appeared that Harris had begun stalling. When that happens it is time for the switch and Haden did not disappoint. If the tandem can stay effective, it will be a big boost to this offense. Offensive Line "Gets It" The offensive line had been struggling a little bit in the first couple of weeks to find its rhythm. At the linemen were lulled to sleep against Northeastern and Kent State and then they did not wake up in time for the speed of Clemson. But just like Goldilocks, Wake Forest was just right. "I was clearly upset after the we performed against Clemson and I wanted to come out and make a statement that this is the same Boston College offensive line that it has been for many years," center captain Matt Tennant said. "The traditions are still there and we work hard and we are gong to play the whole game and more if necessary." One of the biggest differences between this week and last was that the running backs had time to find lanes and the quarterbacks (Tuggle last week, Shinskie this week) actually had some time to go through their progressions. Shinskie was hit a couple of times but was never actually sacked. Put it all together and Boston College had a good bounce back day. In a week, they were learn whether they can sustain that against a tough conference foe in Florida State.