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Five Things We Learned: Stand And Salute

11.28.09 at 10:56 pm ET
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There have been a variety of themes for Boston College this year: 25-year old Dave Shinskie’s erratic performances, sophomore running back Montel Harris’s efficiency, freshman linebacker Luke Kuechly’s rise to dominance and the ability of the defense to come up with the big stop at just the right time to nail down a victory.

All those themes were revisted on Saturday as Boston College hung on for a 19-17 victory against Maryland in its regular season finale in College Park, Md. (Recap.) But no moment was bigger than Kuechly and the Big Stop.

The Terrapins, who held tough the entire game despite being outplayed on both sides of the ball, needed a sustained drive late in the fourth quarter to take the lead for the first time since they held a 3-0 advantage following the initial drive of the game. So, on fourth-and-1 from its own 30-yard line with a little less than five minutes remaining, Maryland — trailing 16-10 at the time — decided to go for it. Quarterback Jamarr Robinson took the handoff and tried to jump the pile . . . only to be met by Kuechly.

The stud freshman anticipated the play from the beginning. He snuck up to the line of scrimmage from his Will linebacker position, and when Robinson went low into the pile Kuechly went high. The result? No gain, BC ball in Terrapin territory.

Four plays and two yards later, senior place kicker Steve Aponavicius hit his fourth field goal of the game, a 42-yard boot that turned out to be the difference.

This was not exactly Bill Belichick going for it on fourth-and-2 from the Indianapolis 28-yard line a couple weeks ago. Maryland, which struggled to sustain drives all day, needed to gain momentum if it had a chance to continue its comeback. But, as it has against Clemson, Wake Forest, Florida State and Notre Dame, the BC defense put the clamps down at precisely the right moment.

Good thing.

Maryland took the next possession and went into its desperation two-minute drill, moving down the field with an efficiency it had not shown all game. The result was a 28-yard touchdown strike from Robinson to Torrey Smith, the best Terrapins player, that gave the denizens of College Park hope that, for the first time all season, Maryland could complete a comeback against an ACC foe (the Terps lost five games this season decided by less than seven points).

The ensuing on-side kick landed safely in the hands of Eagles sophomore wide receiver Colin Larmond Jr., and BC was able to run out the clock to put an exclamation point on a somewhat surprising eight-win regular season.

The eight wins are a tribute to the senior leadership of the team and head coach Frank Spaziani keeping the squad together in a season that seemed lost before it started. But, as we learned today and so many times all season, one defensive stop is sometimes all that is needed.

Here are the four other things we learned from the Eagles’ regular season finale:

The Offense’s Best Road Performance of the Year Wasn’t One to Write Home About

At the beginning of the game it look like BC would finally win a game going away on the road, something it has not accomplished all season. Shinskie hit Larmond on an eight-yard crossing route that enabled the speedy receiver to turn the corner on senior cornerback Anthony Wiseman and race 66 yards to the end zone to give the Eagles a 7-3 lead.

On the next drive, it looked like BC would stuff one in for another touchdown, but Maryland was able to hold Harris  in the red zone to force the first of Aponavicius’ four field goals.

That kick started a theme for the Eagles. Every time they got close to the goal line thereafter, visions of seven points evaporated into three. In the Eagles’ initial drive of the second half, they pushed the ball to the Terrapin 5-yard line. Harris carried twice for a loss of a yard before Shinskie was sacked by Deege Gait (and lost a fumble that was recovered by offensive lineman Mark Spinney). Aponavicius came in for the 31-yard field goal, but he pushed it right for his first, and only, miss of the entire year.

Given the inability to punch the ball over the goal line, turnovers proved the ultimate difference on the day. The Eagles did not make any.

That was a departure from every other road game the team has played this season. Clemson, Virginia Tech and Notre Dame all took advantage of BC turnovers to beat the Eagles, and even Virginia was able to intercept Shinskie a couple times two weeks ago in a loss. This time around Shinskie and company were able to hold onto the ball and not give Maryland any extra opportunities to get back in the game.

Where Have You Been Damik Scafe?

A big problem for BC all season has been putting pressure on the quarterback. Part of the problem has been injuries on the defensive line, with junior Scafe hampered through the middle of the season along with junior Alex Albright.

Scafe made his presence known in this one with two sacks as well as an assist on a couple of tackles for losses. Partnering with him was junior Brad Newman, whose high motor play has been overlooked all season. On one series of plays late in the second quarter, Scafe sacked Robinson on second down and Newman caught the quarterback trying to sneak for a first down at the line for no gain, forcing Maryland to punt. The Eagles were able to take the ball down the field for another field goal as time expired in the half.

The story on the Eagles defense this year has been all about Kuechly and senior strong safety Marcellus Bowman, but today the defensive line stepped up to make some plays that helped BC win the game.

Montel Harris Goes For Triple Digits . . . Again

This particular story line never seems to get old. Harris was once again the man, carrying the ball a season-high 41 times for 142 yards and adding a 30-yard catch into the mix. Harris kept the ball in the hands of the BC offense, which controlled the clock to the tune of 34:53 time of possession.

The offensive line, which worked much of the game without starting sophomore left guard Nathan Richman, kept the lanes clear for the shifty running back to keep the ball moving forward. There were a couple of times through the game that the unit stalled out on Harris, leading to his relatively mediocre 3.5 yards per carry, but a team has to have a good offensive line playing reasonably well if it is going to hand the ball to its feature back 41 times. That total tied a school record, previously achieved by Fred Willis in 1970 against Pittsburgh.

The 142 yards gave Harris 1,365 for the season, extending the school sophomore record that he set last week against North Carolina and giving him 465 yards than he had as a freshman.

The good news is that Harris got through the season without injury. Since fellow sophomore running back Josh Haden decided to transfer, the Eagles have leaned hard on Harris. The team will probably have some more depth in whatever bowl game it plays, as true freshman Rolandan Finch will presumably be over his case of mono by then.

Shinskie Stable

There have been times this year that it seemed that Shinskie psyched himself out to the point of making bad decisions with the football or just making horrible throws that left his receivers open to big hits.

Shinskie was able to stay out of his own way in this game, going 14-for-23 for 227 yards. It was not the most prolific game of his young career, but in some ways it may have been the most rewarding. He was able to put aside the dismal performance against North Carolina and come back to lead the offense to a good win that caps off a a successful eight-win season on The Heights.

Read More: Brad Newman, Damik Scafe, dave shinskie, luke kuechly
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