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Gunnell catches no flak this time

CHESTNUT HILL -- No postgame shove this week to drag Rich Gunnell into the news.

But that midgame hit delivered by Central Michigan's Eric Fraser? The one that was going to force Boston College officials to scrape their senior wideout off the Alumni Stadium turf?

That was football, which is why when it was all over and BC's workmanlike 31-10 victory was in the books on a balmy autumn day, Gunnell could smile out of respect for Fraser's crunching blow.

"My dad told me you're always going to get hit, regardless," Gunnell said, "so you might as well hold onto the ball anyway."

Gunnell indeed held onto Dave Shinskie's pass over the middle, which is not always a comforting place for a wide receiver to be. This 15-yard pass play was no different -- "I had a good grasp that [Fraser] was coming from somewhere," said Gunnell -- but holding on was paramount.

If for a moment the folks gathered at Alumni Stadium held their collective breath, the sight of Gunnell bouncing up, calmly flipping the ball to an official, and casually moving back to the huddle sent a reassuring sign that all was well.

Two plays later, it was even better for the Eagles as Gunnell found a seam in the Central Michigan secondary and hauled in Shinskie's 41-yard strike for a touchdown.

Suddenly, Central Michigan, having looked like the 7-1 Chippewas throughout most of the first half, was looking like the South Boston Chippewas circa 1971, only with far less spirit. Credit a series of three BC possessions in a row for taking the fight out of the chaps from the MAC -- and Gunnell figured prominently in each of them.

No surprise there, given that Gunnell since the fall of 2006, when he made his collegiate debut -- against the Chippewas, no less -- has been a key ingredient to the Eagles' offense. What he proved a week ago with his now-famous end-of-the-game, finger-pointing episode with cocky Notre Dame quarterback Jimmy Clausen is that Gunnell is a leader.

The episode was caught on film by TV cameras and made for great viewing in this YouTube world. It put an exclamation point on BC's frustrating 20-16 loss -- and endeared Gunnell to his teammates.

"They were all there. They had seen what happened in the pregame," Gunnell said of Clausen's trash-talking and reportedly pushing BC's Justin Jarvis. What they hadn't seen was Gunnell's put-down of Clausen, since most of his teammates had gone to the locker room.

"I explained the situation to them, because they really didn't know what happened. I told them what I said," said Gunnell, who called Clausen a phony, "and they really appreciated that I was backing them up, which I was, because it's all about our team."

His confrontation with Clausen aside, Gunnell's true value to the Eagles rests with his ability to get open, to catch and run, and to execute with great precision.

"Rich ran some great routes, like he always does," Shinskie said. When the game film is put forth for review, no doubt it will highlight that moment late in the first half, when the game changed.

The Eagles had the ball on second-and-10 at Central Michigan's 41 and a 3-0 deficit staring them in the face. The Chippewas had turned the game into a sort of track meet, their pass-happy offense chewing up the yards and controlling the clock in such a manner that the Eagles felt out of synch.

The visitors were winning at this game of keep-away, so with time running out in the half, Shinskie needed to make something happen. Which means he had to find Gunnell.

"We studied the films and our coaches did a good job. They noticed a little hole in their defense, so they designed a play where I could delay a little bit and find a spot in their zone," Gunnell said.

Shinskie's pass was hauled in by Gunnell, who then put a deft spin move on sophomore defensive back Dannie Bolden, who might still be dizzy. Taking it for 29 yards down to the 12, Gunnell's effort set up Montel Harris' 3-yard touchdown run a few plays later and the tone of the game was changed for good.

That's because the Eagles scored on the first possession of the second half -- Gunnell's 41-yard touchdown coming minutes after he sustained that hit -- and the next time they touched the ball, they scored again.

Three straight possession translated into 25 plays, 226 yards, and a 21-3 lead. Oh, and all Gunnell did in that span was catch seven balls for 121 yards, which prompted him to point his finger again -- at his coaches.

"They did a great job studying their defense," he said. "It was a nice way to go into the bye week."

Ah, yes, a week to rest for the final ACC push. It figures to be quieter than last week, no? Gunnell laughed, rolled his eyes, and said it surely won't be as busy as last week. That finger-pointing incident not only lit a fire under his team, it got the folks back home in New Jersey a bit curious, too.

"Oh, yeah," Gunnell said. "My mom sent me a couple of texts. My aunts, my friends. They all just wanted to know what I said to him and what happened."

What had happened was leadership, and it happened again Saturday against Central Michigan.