BC can't convert against Virginia Tech
Eagles shut out by Hokies as home game turns into buzz kill
NEWTON, Mass. -- It was a buzz kill on top of a buzz kill.
Boston College was just starting to inject a little energy into a lackluster game Saturday at Alumni Stadium, driving deep into Virginia Tech territory in pursuit of a tying score in the final minutes before halftime. The nimble legs of Montel Harris (five carries for 28 yards on the drive) were leading the march, although the real yard producers for BC were the guys in black-and-white stripes and their yellow flags.
With the Eagles punting the ball away, for instance, a roughing-the-kicker call handed BC a first down near midfield. A pass interference flag moved the Eagles inside the Tech 40. Then, with 15 seconds on the clock, the Hokies were penalized for a hit on quarterback Dave Shinskie after an official whistled a timeout just prior to the snap.
The personal foul -- followed by a false start -- put BC on the 11-yard line with a chance to erase 29 minutes, 45 seconds of bad memories. Instead, the Eagles added an unthinkably nightmarish one that encompassed the theme of the day in a 19-0 loss before 42,317.
Obviously, that drive before halftime did not produce a score for the Eagles, who were shut out for the first time in 148 games (the last one a 17-0 loss, also to the Hokies, in 1998). But what was most damaging about those final seconds was the manner in which BC came up empty. On the last play of the half, Shinskie fell prey to what has consistently plagued the sophomore's career in Chestnut Hill: a poor decision. This time it was not his interception-prone arm that failed him, it was his not-quite-swift-enough legs. Flushed out of the pocket with no timeouts left, the 26-year-old opted to pull down the ball and run for the end zone. He made it to the 1 before being tackled.
The final seconds ticked off the clock, and the teams headed for their locker rooms, one breathing easy from having escaped a threat, the other deflated.
"It had to have some effect," BC coach Frank Spaziani said at the postgame news conference, speaking of the impact of that bubble-bursting play on the psyche of his team. "I've been around long enough to know that's the case with young kids."
But Spaziani wasn't second-guessing his decision to keep the offense on the field in the final seconds of the half.
"We understood exactly how we wanted to manage the clock," he said, his voice not much louder than a whisper as he slouched over his microphone. By "we," he presumably meant the coaches on the sideline, not the players on the field.
"We're not out there," he added. "Decisions have to be made."
Shinskie regrets the one he made.
"There was a blitz on and I just saw a hole and probably should have thrown it away," he acknowledged of that first-half drive, "but I saw the end zone and tried my damndest to get in or get out of bounds."
Earlier, the Eagles quarterback had tried his damndest to thread a pass between Hokies defenders in the end zone, and the result was a collective groan from the fans in maroon and gold. Following that first-quarter interception, Virginia Tech moved 80 yards in nine plays to make it 7-0, the key play being a 30-yard hookup between Tyrod Taylor (16-for-21, 1 interception) and Darren Evans, who on the next snap ran 3 yards for the score.
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After Virginia Tech took the second-half kickoff and drove for a field goal, Shinskie (11-for-25, 130 yards) picked up right where he left off. On BC's first possession of the half, he fumbled at his 24, putting Virginia Tech in position for another 3-pointer. Three plays later, he threw his second interception, this one at the BC 31, leading to still another Hokies field goal to make it 16-0 with 4:13 left in the third quarter.
When the Eagles' offense came back onto the field, the quarterback was fellow sophomore Mike Marscovetra -- or The New Sitting Duck. After Shinskie had been sacked four times, Marscovetra was nailed twice for minus-35 yards. He did manage to complete 5 of 7 passes for 50 yards.
It was a familiar scenario for the BC quarterbacks. In last season's 48-14 Virginia Tech demolition of the Eagles in Blacksburg, Va., Marscovetra had relieved an even less effective Shinskie, who threw 12 passes that day and had three caught -- two of them by Hokies defenders. Shinskie retained his starting job for the rest of the season, and in the first two games of 2010, Marscovetra had come in for just a first-half series each.
This time he stayed in for the duration.
How long does duration last? Spaziani would not say which sophomore will be behind center next Saturday night when the Eagles host Notre Dame.
"Going into this game, it was a point of contention and it still is," Spaziani said. "We'll evaluate it as we see fit."
For what it's worth, Shinskie did offer up his evaluation: "I think I should be the starting quarterback. There's a lot of stuff that goes into being the starting quarterback, and I think I have that."
He may have it, but he didn't put it on display Saturday.
The one guy on the BC offense who did show some stuff was Harris. He ran 19 times for 111 yards -- his second 100-yard game of the season and the 15th of his 2,663-yard career. The junior passed L.V. Whitworth for seventh place all-time among BC rushers.
But even Harris couldn't keep the buzz alive.
Actually, to say there was a buzz surrounding this game is a bit of a stretch. Sure, it was the first game of fall (albeit on a humid, mid-summerlike day) and the Atlantic Coast Conference opener for both teams. But much of the anticipation for the Hokies' visit to The Heights had been doused over the past few weeks as Tech, a top-10 team in preseason national rankings, lost two of its first three games, including an embarrassing home defeat to lower-level James Madison.
Still, the parking lots on campus were bustling all morning with festive tailgaters, and hundreds of fans crowded around the BC marching band when it performed outside Alumni Stadium an hour before kickoff. When the teams first took the field, the stands were nearly filled and producing some impressive decibels.
A couple of hours later, however, there were more empty seats than fans as the teams quietly played out the game's final minutes.
Whatever buzz there had been at The Heights was long gone.
Jeff Wagenheim is a contributor to ESPNBoston.com.