Commentary

Ryan sparks furious Boston College comeback

Originally Published: October 25, 2007
By Mark Schlabach | ESPN.com

BLACKSBURG, Va. -- Boston College wide receivers coach Ryan Day climbed out of bed Wednesday morning, took one step and fell to his knees in excruciating pain.

By 11 p.m., Day was undergoing emergency surgery to remove his appendix at a Boston hospital. The following morning, after taking a heavy dose of pain killers, he turned on the TV in his hospital room and saw one too many promos for the No. 2 Eagles' ACC showdown at No. 8 Virginia Tech on Thursday night.

So Day did what any maniacal college football coach would do. He picked up the telephone and checked available airline flights to southwest Virginia. Day found a flight -- he had to fly from Boston's Logan Airport to New York's LaGuardia and then to Roanoke, Va. -- and didn't have much time to get there. He climbed out of bed and left his room wearing electrodes and the same clothes he'd arrived at the hospital in the day before.

"The doctor told me, 'Officially, I can't clear you for this flight,'" Day said. "If it wasn't Virginia Tech and wasn't Thursday night, I wouldn't have done it. My wife didn't want me to go, God bless her. But she gave me her blessing at the end. I told her all week that I just had a feeling something special was going to happen."

And, boy, did something special happen to the Eagles at Lane Stadium on Thursday night. After being exposed as yet another team not worthy of the No. 2 spot in the BCS standings for nearly the entire game, Boston College rallied from a 10-0 deficit with two touchdowns in the final 2:11 to stun the Hokies 14-10 in front of a rain-soaked, sold-out crowd of 66,233.

[+] EnlargeMatt Ryan
Geoff Burke/US PresswireMatt Ryan's two TD passes in the final 2:11 lifted the Eagles past the Hokies.

By the time it was over, after quarterback Matt Ryan had thrown two touchdowns, the Eagles remained one of only five unbeaten teams left in major college football with four games to play.

"I told the kids that things like that will happen to them in special years," Boston College coach Jeff Jagodzinski said. "I think that's one of those types of years here. There wasn't one bit of panic -- nothing -- with those kids, especially that guy."

That guy is Ryan, who overcame one of the worst performances of his career to direct an improbable comeback. By the time it was over, the Heisman Trophy candidate was hunched over on the sideline losing his dinner. By then, more than a few Boston College folks were mentioning him in the same breath with Doug Flutie, the 1984 Heisman Trophy winner, who, of course, engineered the greatest ending in college football history with his last-second touchdown pass to Gerard Phelan against Miami in 1984.

"I don't know what it was," Ryan said. "I wasn't feeling right. I think it was just adrenaline. I couldn't maintain it and threw up."

That's probably exactly what most Virginia Tech fans wanted to do after watching their team lose a game they had seemingly won. The Hokies went ahead 7-0 on quarterback Sean Glennon's touchdown pass to Eddie Royal in the first half, then added Jud Dunlevy's 44-yard field goal in the third quarter to make it 10-0.

Ryan, who came into the game having already thrown for more than 2,100 yards and 17 touchdowns, couldn't do anything against Virginia Tech's swarming defense. Boston College gained 139 yards on 55 plays during the first three quarters. Ryan completed only 14 of 33 passes for 101 yards with no touchdowns and one interception in the first 45 minutes.

"I don't think I played very well for the most part," Ryan said. "I really thought I could have played a lot better. Give a lot of credit to Virginia Tech's defense. They did a great job of getting pressure and confusing me."

[+] EnlargeAndre Callender and Kevin Challenger
AP Photo/Steve HelberThe Eagles can celebrate moving to 8-0 for the first time since 1942.

So when the Hokies passed up an opportunity to attempt a 46-yard field goal with less than 4½ minutes to go and instead pinned the Eagles at their 8-yard line with a pooch punt, the outcome seemed inevitable.

Even Mike Ryan, the quarterback's father, who sat in section 119 with the rest of the Boston College fans, didn't feel good about the Eagles' chances. The electrical contractor from Philadelphia had watched his son excel in pressure situations since he began playing youth basketball at 10. But Ryan felt the Hokies had every answer for what the Eagles were trying to do.

"They had our number," Mike Ryan said. "From my perspective, and certainly not from experience, we had nothing to go to on offense."

But the Eagles had Matt Ryan, and he proved to be plenty.

"We just kept battling," Ryan said. "We just kept saying on the sideline, 'Hang in there! We're going to get something!' … I was confident the whole time. A 10-0 [deficit] is not a huge lead. It's not much. It's two scores."

But the Eagles couldn't even get one score in the first 55½ minutes. Starting the drive at the 8, Ryan threw incomplete on first down. But then he fired a 23-yard pass to Brandon Robinson to move to the Eagles' 31. Then came a 22-yard completion to Robinson and a 20-yarder to tight end Ryan Purvis to move into Hokie territory. Ryan scrambled for 11 yards for a first down at the Tech 16, but then threw incomplete on the next two plays.

On third-and-10, Ryan's 16-yard touchdown to Rich Gunnell, who beat cornerback Victor "Macho" Harris on the left sideline to make the catch, cut Virginia Tech's lead to 10-7 with 2:11 to play.

Boston College set up for an onside kick and Steve Aponavicius drilled the kick at Hokies receiver Josh Morgan. He couldn't handle the line drive and there was a mad scramble for the football. Linebacker Tyronne Pruitt, who had set up as a safety man on the other side of the field, somehow came up with the ball at the Boston College 34.

"There was a lot of fighting in the pile," Pruitt said. "I was at the bottom of the pile and a lot of guys were trying to get it from me. Even after the ref said, '48 got it! 48 got it!' I wouldn't give it back."

Ryan got the football back with 2:07 left to play. He needed to drive his team about 40 yards to give Aponavicius a decent chance at tying the score with a field goal. Aponavicius, a former walk-on who was dubbed "Sid Vicious" by his teammates, hadn't kicked a field goal longer than 45 yards in his career.

[+] EnlargeAndre Callender
AP Photo/Steve HelberAndre Callender's game-winning catch capped an improbable BC comeback.

But Ryan wasn't interested in settling for a tie and overtime. He completed four straight passes to start the possession, moving the Eagles to the Virginia Tech 14 with 46 seconds to play. On first down, Ryan scrambled and threw the ball out of the end zone. On second down, Ryan fired an apparent touchdown to Gunnell, but a holding call force the Eagles back 10 yards with 27 seconds to go.

"I thought, 'Just go do it again,'" Ryan said. "That's all you can think in that situation. As a quarterback, you always turn around and scan the field. I guess we're just paranoid."

On second-and-20 at the Hokies' 24, Ryan threw incomplete to Gunnell in the end zone. The Eagles had one more chance at the end zone, before Jagodzinski would send Aponavicius onto the field to attempt a game-tying field goal.

Offensive coordinator Steve Logan sent down the play from the coaching box. It was "Rattler," which meant the two outside receivers each ran post routes and the two slot receivers each ran corner routes. The Eagles hoped one of them would get open in the end zone.

The play wasn't supposed to involve running back Andre Callender sneaking behind defensive end Orion Martin in the end zone.

But that's exactly what Callender did. When none of Ryan's primary targets broke open, he rolled to his left to escape pressure. Callender snuck behind Martin near the goal line, and Ryan fired an off-balance pass into the right side of the end zone.

"Forever, it was up in the air," Callender said. "I lost it in the lights for a second, then I saw it again. I thought the guy was going to tip it because it was coming in [slow motion]. But I got it."

And the Eagles got their eighth consecutive victory when perhaps no one else in the stadium believed they would. Jagodzinski said it took a special quarterback to do it.

"The mark of a good quarterback is winning," Jagodzinski said. "Matt Ryan, what he did tonight, along with the receivers and the whole crew there in the last three minutes of the game, that was special."

And Day, the receivers coach who worked from the sideline with fresh stitches in his side, might have personified the Eagles more than anyone else on this night.

"These kids are tough and that's kind of the mantra," Day said. "They're just a bunch of tough kids and they didn't give up."

Mark Schlabach covers college football and men's college basketball for ESPN.com. You can contact him at schlabachma@yahoo.com.

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