Updated: Sep 2, 2019
By Kevin J. Stone
CHESTNUT HILL — With expectations rising for the Eagles but an air of uncertainty about just how talented this BC squad really is, Boston College had a chance to make an early statement in Saturday afternoon's season and Atlantic Coast Conference opener against Virginia Tech.
BC wasn't without its flaws — nearly blowing a 14-point halftime lead and being held without a single yard of offense in the third quarter — but speed at some critical positions and phenomenal work from both lines were two of the most glaring factors that contributed to the Eagles' 35-28 win over the Hokies.
The Eagles led, 28-14, at halftime, but Virginia Tech held onto the ball for 13:02 in the third quarter and cut the lead to 28-21. A little over a minute into the fourth, defensive end Tanner Karafa picked off a screen pass at the Hokies' 41-yard line — one of five forced turnovers by the defense — to halt a potential game-tying drive.
The teams traded fruitless possessions before the Eagles marched 56 yards in 10 plays, punctuated by tailback David Bailey's 1-yard touchdown run to increase the lead to 35-21 with 7:53 remaining.
The Hokies pulled within 35-28 after an 11-yard scoring toss from Ryan Wills to Kaleb Smith with 2:30 to go. But an unsuccessful onside kick and three runs from Eagles running back AJ Dillon — including an 11-yard gain on third-and-9 — sealed the win.
"Great statement win today for the program," head coach Steve Addazio said. "We played a heck of a football team in Virginia Tech. Really, really good program, coaching staff. Justin Fuente is a heck of a coach, and Bud Foster (who is retiring at the end of the season), I saw him at the end of the game. He may be the very best defensive coordinator in college football year in and year out.
"It's a good football team we had the opportunity to beat here at home. It was a battle, as you all saw. Really proud of our defense, man. Five turnovers. We held them to under 100 yards rushing, played a bunch of new faces out there. Played with great energy. Played with great passion. Made some key plays."
Karafa's interception may have been the most key, but the story of the first half was BC's offensive line and the speed its receivers, as the Eagles racked up 356 yards of total offense. True freshman Zay Flowers looked as good as advertised, with two catches for 91 yards and a touchdown, along with 25 yards rushing on three carries. Fellow wideout Kobay White hauled in three receptions for 73 yards and a score.
BC opened the scoring on a 33-yard hookup from Anthony Brown (15-of-26 passing, 275 yards, 2 TD) to Flowers on a beautifully-thrown ball to the right corner of the end zone.
"It's always nice adding new cars to the garage," Brown said of Flowers with a grin. "It's really a blessing. The kid is very, very talented. Zay and Kobay did a great job today, but overall, we have a ton of guys that can make plays. We're ready to keep it going for the rest of the season."
Said Flowers: "It felt unreal at first, but after that first run, (Brown) just told me to play my game after that, and that's what I did."
Virginia Tech scored twice to go up, 14-7, early in the second quarter, but BC began utilizing the tight ends more the ensuing drive, methodically moving downfield until Dillon created a bit of magic, spinning out of a hit at the line of scrimmage, reversing direction and ultimately rumbling in from 17-yards out to help even things up.
Three plays later, defensive back Tate Haynes came up with a strip sack after flying in on a blitz, with Marcus Valdez recovering. White then hauled in a highlight-reel 17-yard touchdown grab to give the Eagles a lead they wouldn't relinquish.
"It was a pretty wide opening," said Haynes. "I thought I'd have a good shot at it. I think I really got pretty lucky, honestly. But it was a great play. Marcus was right there to recover it, so yeah. But it was wide open."
With 2:23 left in the half, the Eagles recovered a muffed Hokie punt deep in Hokies territory. Brown followed with a designed read, and thanks to some fantastic blocking ran in untouched from 28 yards out to make it 28-14.
"The offensive line played wonderful today. I love them," Brown said.
The Hokies quickly moved deep into Eagle territory, but an interception in the end zone by Joe Sparacio ended the threat.
BC didn't gain a single yard of offense in the third quarter and punted three times, but thanks to a Brandon Sebastian interception, Virginia Tech only managed one touchdown, setting up the final 15 minutes of nerve-racking football for Eagles fans.
It wasn't easy, but it was enough for the Eagles to silence everyone — including oddsmakers, who had Virginia Tech a road favorite all offseason — who thought last year's 31-21 win over the Hokies in Blacksburg, Va., was a fluke.
Addazio, though, just appeared pleased to emerge with a hard-fought win against a non-creampuff.
"You know, you win an opener against a team that maybe you're stronger than, I don't know that sometimes that really helps you because two weeks in, three weeks in, you can get shocked at the speed of the game," Addazio added. "Starters play a half. They come out, they're feeling good about themselves, and then you get stung. We got stung today. I mean, that was like it was real football out there. We're playing hard hat football at a high, high speed.
"So to me, it's a statement game because . . . we're 1-0 . . . got a conference win . . . and got battle tested out here against a really quality football team, and a really, really quality defensive football team. So that's what I'm excited about."