BC finds winning more with less works

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. -- Not only isn't this Matt Ryan's team, it's not even Chris Crane's team anymore.

What Boston College doesn't have, though, has never mattered this season, and it didn't matter in Saturday's 28-21 win over Maryland.

Boston College won the Atlantic Division without Ryan, without a veteran running back, and with its backup quarterback. The Eagles did it with one of the nation's stingiest defenses and a group effort on the day it mattered most. For the second straight season, the Eagles will face Virginia Tech in the ACC championship game.

It's the same result, but this year is much different.

There are no Ryan-esque superstars on this Boston College roster, which is why those within the program agreed this year's trip to the ACC title game is even more gratifying than last year's.

It's also why nobody outside the Yawkey Athletics Center expected Boston College to be here.
"That's the best part of it," said coach Jeff Jagodzinski, who is in his second season. "The guys believed they could. That's the whole thing about coaching, getting your guys to believe they can do it. It doesn't matter who's on the field. They're all wearing gold helmets. We had four starters out and it didn't matter. They didn't flinch, they just kept playing.

"When they believe, and the coaches believe, you've got a chance," Jagodzinski said. "Our kids fought. We didn't have to count on anybody this year to help us get into the game. They kept earning themselves into the championship game by winning."

The Eagles closed their regular season with four straight wins. It's the second straight season for Jagodzinski with at least nine wins, as last year's team finished 11-3, the first team to win 11 games since 1940. They can reach that mark again with an ACC title and Orange Bowl win.

As the final seconds ticked off the clock in Alumni Stadium, there was one fan behind the BC bench holding out an orange, a symbol that once seemed highly unlikely for this undermanned offense.

Starting quarterback Chris Crane, a fifth-year senior in his first season leading the offense, broke his collarbone last week in the win at Wake Forest. He was the fourth starter the Eagles lost to injury this season, along with linebacker Brian Toal, defensive end Alex Albright and receiver Clarence Megwa. It was up to backup quarterback Dominique Davis to lead the offense to the Atlantic Division title in his first career start. He managed the offense well without turning the ball over and finished with a career-high 134 yards passing and two touchdowns.

And as usual, he got some help.

BC scored on offense. They scored on defense, and they scored on special teams. There was even a player named Flutie involved. Billy Flutie, the nephew of BC legend Doug Flutie, completed the first pass of his career -- a nine-yard touchdown on a fake field goal. It was something they had practiced all week.

It was only fitting that Boston College sealed the win with an interception return for a touchdown. That makes seven straight games the Eagles scored a non-offensive touchdown.

"We're probably one of the most underrated defenses in the country," said linebacker Robert Francois, whose 36-yard fourth-quarter interception return for a touchdown was the Eagles eighth non-offensive touchdown of the season. "We come out every week to prove everybody wrong."

That seemed to be the overriding motivator this season for the Eagles.

"We were written off in the beginning of the season," said linebacker Mark Herzlich, who had his team-high sixth interception of the season. "No one really gave us a chance. We were kind of an underrated defense. We're starting to get up there in the national news, but it's very satisfying, especially to know the defense has done such a great job this year and one thing that has been great is everyone has really come together. There hasn't been one superstar on our team, and that's something we do take pride in. Whether you're on offense, or defense or special teams, we've come together as a team."

They might have been the only ones who thought they could.

"I don't think anyone outside our program thought we stood a chance," receiver Rich Gunnell said. "But you know, we knew within ourselves we had a lot of experience coming back on defense and we had some players coming back on offense. We had a new quarterback and a new running back, but we had the confidence in ourselves week in and week out that we can do the job on Saturdays. We knew what we had."

But BC couldn't win the ACC title with Matt Ryan. That's exactly why Herzilch said there was something about the way the team worked out this winter, a certain sense of urgency he noticed in spring ball.

"It set a fire off in our stomachs," he said. "Last year was awesome, no taking away from it. We had the No. 1 quarterback in the country ... the thing is we didn't reach our goal. We came up short. We didn't win the ACC championship game and we didn't go to the Orange Bowl. All of those negatives at the end of the season really got us striving to make a difference this year. If you don't make it to the Orange Bowl, then you're another team in the ACC. You did a good job, but you're not noticeable. This year we want to be noticeable and get to where we want to go."