Freshmen play big for bowl-eligible BC

NEWTON, Mass. -- It was all about the 6. And the 12.

That second number represents the consecutive years that the Boston College Eagles will have played in a bowl game if the Eagles are invited to one this season. The first number represents the minimum amount of wins a team needs to be eligible for a bowl invitation.

BC (6-5) reached that magic number Saturday afternoon with a tense 17-13 victory over the Virginia Cavaliers before a sparse, subdued crowd announced at 39,263 at Alumni Stadium.

"We certainly have higher aspirations [than winning six games] every year around here," said BC coach Frank Spaziani. "Are we happy now to have won four games in a row? Absolutely."

Many of the key plays responsible for the Eagles sewing up postseason eligibility in their final home game were by players who've not been around for any past BC bowls: freshmen.

The leading man was quarterback Chase Rettig, who began his first season at The Heights third on the depth chart but has started the past six games. The freshman was gritty and efficient, if unspectacular, completing 10 of 19 passes for 152 yards, with a touchdown and an interception. For the first time this season, he reached 100 passing yards in the first half.

"He made a couple of nice throws," said Spaziani. "He managed the game correctly. There are a couple of passes that I think he would like to have back. But that's football."

Rettig's TD connection was with fellow freshman Alex Amidon, who got behind a couple of defenders at the goal line to haul in a 39-yard strike and tie the score 10-10 with 1:21 left in the half.

"Alex made a great break around the corner," said Rettig, "and I just tried to keep [the pass] upfield as much as I could. I had a lot of time on that play, and I was able to step up and put it in Alex's hands."

Virginia regained the lead with a 40-yard Robert Randolph field goal on the final play of the half.

The second half started the way much of the first half had played out: as a punt fest. The BC offense did manage to shift the field position edge, however, after taking over for the first time after intermission at its 2. Rettig took a first-down snap, made a play-action fake and calmly completed a 28-yard pass to Ifeanyi Momah. A shifty Montel Harris run took the ball to midfield, but the drive stalled there.

Two possessions later, BC started at its 4. After three Harris runs totaling 15 yards and a Rettig-to-Chris Pantale connection for 18, the Eagles got their biggest offensive spark of the day from another freshman.

Running back Andre Williams took a handoff at the BC 37, juked a couple of times in the middle of the defense and found himself in the clear, running toward the end zone. He was tripped up at the Virginia 4 after the 59-yard burst. Harris ran it in untouched on the next play to give BC the lead for good.

Harris finished with a rugged 114 yards on 24 carries, although his day ended much earlier than he would have preferred. On the last play of the third quarter, the junior running back gained 3 yards to pass Mike Cloud (1995-98) and become BC's second-leading rusher with 3,600 yards. But Harris injured a knee and did not return. He was to undergo an MRI after the game.

"I say it every week: Montel works hard," said Spaziani. "He's a good back. He's a really good back."

Williams took over in the backfield and finished with career highs of 12 carries and 108 yards, including 20 on a gritty third-down run to keep the ball in BC's hands with just under four minutes left. That got the maroon-and-gold sideline excited.

"That's why you keep working hard as a backup," said Spaziani. "Because you will be called on and you don't know when and you don't know where. He was ready."

It was the first time that BC had two 100-yard rushers since 2006.

Harris wasn't the only non-freshman among the big-play Eagles. Once again, sophomore linebacker Luke Kuechly had his name announced an awful lot over the public address system. The nation's leading tackler had 15 stops for his 20th straight game with double figures, extending the nation's longest streak.

"All that we're concerned about is continuing to win," said Kuechly. "You can never be satisfied because once you're satisfied, everything else in the future kind of goes away."

Not to be overshadowed were the career-high 14 tackles of fellow linebacker Kevin Pierre-Louis. Another freshman, by the way.

But the linebacker of the day was Mark Herzlich, the 2008 All-American who sat out last season while battling Ewing's sarcoma. He provided the day's early emotional boost by being the last player introduced in pregame Senior Day ceremonies, charging onto the field to a roar from the crowd and being hugged by family members and teammates. Then Herzlich recorded eight tackles, forced a fumble, made a diving play to break up a pass and halt a third-quarter Virginia drive, and intercepted a pass in the fourth.

All that aside, it was not the most inspiring afternoon of football that Alumni Stadium has seen. Perhaps the BC folks should have brought in the vuvuzelas that were banned across town at the Harvard-Yale game. For a game pitting teams that came in 5-5 and 4-6, there was not much of a buzz at The Heights.

Until the end of the afternoon, that is, as dusk was settling in and the Eagles walked into the locker room having earned the right to do what BC teams have done for the past 11 seasons: play in a bowl game.

Jeff Wagenheim is a contributor to ESPNBoston.com.