CHESTNUT HILL — At times, it appeared that Boston College was doing exactly what it needed to upset Notre Dame Saturday at Alumni Field.
The host Eagles played with an early lead. They forced three turnovers. They both ran and threw the ball effectively for most of the game, and found themselves in position to score with regularity.
But as the contest progressed, it became increasingly clear that BC would likely have to play a perfect game to beat the second-ranked visitors. And that, unfortunately for the Eagles, did not happen, as Notre Dame pulled away for a 45-31 win in the Holy War and Red Bandana Game.
With the win, Notre Dame improved to 8-0 overall and 7-0 in the Atlantic Coast Conference, while BC fell to 5-4 and 4-4, respectively.
Behind an offensive line that lived up to its immense hype, Notre Dame rushed for 278 yards and three touchdowns on 47 attempts, a robust 5.9 yards per carry. Quarterback Ian Book made plays with both his feet and his arm, as he completed 20-of-27 passes for 283 yards and three touchdowns. Each scoring pass went to Ben Skowronek, who made five receptions for 63 yards.
The production was wonderfully spread out, as the offense methodically did its damage all game. The Irish did not punt once, and ended by taking a knee deep in BC territory.
"That's a really good football team we just played," first-year BC coach Jeff Hafley said.
The loss wrapped up a three-week stretch where the Eagles fell to an at-the-time top-ranked Clemson team, and a second-ranked Notre Dame squad that knocked the Tigers from their perch. BC led at times in both games, which shows how close the Eagles are to eventually getting to where they want. But it also showed that BC still has a fairly long way to go.
"For us to beat this team, we had to execute at a really high level," Hafley said.
Again, there were moments that BC did just that, but not enough. Hafley revealed afterward that quarterback Phil Jurkovec suffered a separated shoulder against Clemson, and that was why the Eagles ran so much in last week's game against Syracuse.
"(Jurkovec) played his heart out," BC wide receiver Jaelen Gill said of his quarterback.
Jurkovec completed 18-of-40 passes for 272 yards, two touchdowns, and an interception against his former team. The sophomore transferred to BC from Notre Dame in the offseason.
"It was different," Jurkovec said of playing his former squad. "Seeing some of my friends out there, it was cool to go up against them."
Although Jurkovec played well, he made perhaps his biggest mistake with an interception to Notre Dame's Jack Kiser in BC territory in the third quarter. The Fighting Irish took that gift and moved right downfield, and C'Bo Flemister punched it in from 2 yards out to help give his team the 38-16 lead.
But BC refused to give in. The Eagles answered with a 12-play, 80-yard drive that featured plenty of power running. David Bailey finished it off with a 3-yard blast into the end zone to help the Eagles cut the deficit to 38-23.
It stayed that way until early in the fourth quarter, when Notre Dame's Avery Davis took an end around 29 yards into BC territory. Not long after that, Book scrambled free to his right and found lots of space in 6-yard touchdown scamper. That helped give the Fighting Irish an insurmountable, 45-23 lead.
BC did have one last scoring drive late in the fourth. Jurkovec hit tight end Hunter Long for an 8-yard touchdown. Travis Levy ran in the two-point conversion to cut the deficit to 45-31, but the game was long over at that point.
"I'm proud of our guys," Hafley said. "They fought and they fought until the end. They didn't quit."
Most of BC's bright spots came early on.
Notre Dame took the opening kickoff and methodically marched down into BC territory with a nice mix of the run and the pass. But the Eagles stiffened in their own red zone and forced a field goal. Jonathan Doerer's 23-yarder capped a 13-play, 70-yard drive to give the Fighting Irish a 3-0 lead with 9:39 to play in the opening quarter.
BC answered with a nice drive of its own, and, unlike the Fighting Irish, was able to finish it with a touchdown. Jurkovec opened with first-down completions to Zay Flowers and CJ Lewis to put the ball in Notre Dame territory. Levy followed with a 22-yard run up the middle. Jurkovec appeared to cap the drive with a scoring pass. to Levy, but review overturned the play, ruling Levy's foot out of bounds when he controlled the ball.
No matter. Jurkovec two plays later hit Flowers in the back of the end zone as BC took a 7-3 lead.
It did not take long for BC to add to it. On the first play of the ensuing possession, a fumble on the exchange was recovered by BC's Brandon Barlow. However, the ensuing drive went nowhere and the Eagles settled for a 41-yard field goal by Aaron Boumerhi.
If Notre Dame was fazed by the early deficit, it did not show. The Fighting Irish traveled 77 yards on eight plays in 3:39 to help tie it up when Skowronek made a nice high-point catch on a pass from Book. The 9-yarder came despite the fact that Skowronek was interfered with on the play.
On the next BC possession, Jurkovec showed why he is so special for the Eagles' offense. With two Notre Dame players bearing down on him, Jurkovec somehow spun his way out of a sack, then hit Gill for a 34-yard gain. Jurkovec gained another 17 yards on a keeper right after that. Although BC did not get in the end zone, Boumerhi capped the drive with a 31-yard field goal that gave the Eagles a 13-10 advantage.
The Eagles went with a little trickery on the ensuing kickoff, and appeared to gain possession on an onside kick. However, after a review, it was deemed that the Eagles threw an illegal block, and had to re-kick.
"I wanted to attack and be aggressive," Hafley said, "so that's why I made the call."
Notre Dame took over at its 25 and after moving toward midfield, found itself deep in BC territory on a 48-yard completion from Book to Davis. On the next play, Flemister rumbled in from 2 yards out to help give the Fighting Irish a 17-13 lead.
Like Jurkovec, Book proved to be a bit of a magician in avoiding pressure and making plays. After a BC punt, the Fighting Irish moved deep into BC territory. Book looked to be a victim of a sack, but he escaped the pressure and ran back and to his left to keep the play alive. He found Skowronek, who caught the pass and ran inside the left pylon for the 13-yard touchdown. It helped give the visitors a 24-13 lead.
Although it appeared that the Fighting Irish were about to pull away at this juncture, BC still had some fight in it. On the second play of the next possession, Jurkovec found Gill for a 40-yard gain. That helped set up another Boumerhi field goal, this time from 35 yards out, as the Eagles cut the lead to 24-16.
The teams then traded fumbles back and forth, and it appeared that BC would go into halftime with a reasonable deficit. But Notre Dame put together one more solid drive, and Book found Skowronek for a 7-yard touchdown as the Fighting Irish upped their lead to 31-16 just four seconds before halftime.
So BC can move forward knowing it belongs when it takes on the nation's best, but still with work to do.
"We know not only that we can compete, but we can really play with teams," Gill said. "I don't think we're too far off from anyone in the country."