CHESTNUT HILL — Whenever Boston College honors the memory of 9/11 hero Welles Crowther with its annual Red Bandana game, emotions run high, and that was no different Friday night when the University of Miami came to Alumni Stadium.
As was the case with its game with Louisville a little less than two weeks ago, the Eagles channeled strong feelings into powerful play on the field, dominating all three phases in a 27-14 win over the Hurricanes.
In so doing, the Eagles have begun to play with the type of confidence or swagger that is normally attributed to the program it took down to improve to 6-2 overall and 3-1 in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
"I never felt like that game was in jeopardy, because our kids were going to find a way to win that game," Eagles coach Steve Addazio said.
Defensive end Zach Allen, who had another stellar performance with six tackles, a sack, and 1.5 tackles for loss, also sounded like an Eagle with supreme belief in how he and his teammates are playing.
"I think it came down to game-planning and just technique," he said. "It's easy to play football when you're having fun with your best friends and you get to play for the man to the left and the right of you instead of a 'turnover chain.' "
That last sentence is in reference to the popular reward Miami players drape themselves with when the Hurricanes force a turnover. On Friday night, it would have been the Eagles wearing such jewelry if they desired, as they intercepted two passes in the third quarter, and forced a turnover on downs with Miami at the 3-yard line in the fourth.
On the latter, BC cornerback Taj-Amir Torres helped break up a pass intended for Darrell Langham, but it was safety Will Harris who came in with the hit to make sure the Miami receiver did not come down with the ball. As Langham lay flat on his back from the blow, Harris stepped over him in a fashion to add a little exclamation point.
"Those are big plays," Addazio said of the interceptions and the turnover on downs. "Those are huge plays. It's hard for me to say what did it. I think what did it, honestly, was a collective effort of all three phases of our football team with a relentless will. That's how I felt on the sideline . . . just this unbelievable surge from our team."
That surge was evident right from the start, as AJ Dillon's first carry in his return from an ankle injury that kept him out of the NC State and Louisville games went for 25 yards. The Eagles, operating out of a tempo that Addazio felt was critical to keeping the Miami defense on its heels, then went into their bag of tricks when quarterback Anthony Brown threw backwards to receiver Jeff Smith, who then tossed it across the field back to Brown for a 27-yard gain.
Brown and Smith went back to their more conventional relationship as the former hit the latter on a 9-yard touchdown to help give the Eagles a 7-0 lead with 8:57 to go in the opening quarter.
Miami answered with a touchdown pass to Langham on the next drive, but BC struck again with the help of more sleight of hand. Smith, who played quarterback in high school and briefly at BC, took another backward pass and threw to Travis Levy for a 31-yard gain. Five plays later, Brown dropped back, looked to his right where his receivers were, then back to his left where no one was, and sauntered in for the 5-yard score to help give his team a 14-7 edge.
Colton Lichtenberg added a 21-yard field goal with 9:04 in the second quarter, and Miami pulled to within 17-14 by halftime by way of a DeeJay Dallas touchdown run off a direct snap on the ensuing drive.
But from there, the BC defense took over. In the second half, Miami managed just 133 yards. Eagles cornerback Hamp Cheevers came away with an interception that bounced off of what looked like half the players on the field to set up a field goal in the third quarter.
When Miami received the ball after that, Torres snatched another pick. Dillon, who finished with 149 yards rushing on 32 carries, took the ball around right end for a 14-yard touchdown on the next play from scrimmage to complete the scoring for the night.
The Hurricanes threatened early in the fourth after a Brown interception late in the third, but when Torres and Harris combined to snuff out that final threat, Miami did not come close to again.
With the victory, BC is now bowl-eligible for the fifth time in Addazio's six seasons at The Heights, but the coach insisted his players aren't focused on that.
"The best part about it was, nothing was mentioned down in the locker room about (becoming bowl eligible)," Addazio said. "We didn't go down there and say, 'Hey, I'm mentioning it right now.' As a team, we didn't mention it. I think that's significant to where we are now."