SYRACUSE, NY - It's tough for any team to succeed when its best player isn't on the field, and that was the scenario Boston College faced on Saturday when it took on Syracuse at the Carrier Dome. Without junior tailback Montel Harris in the backfield, it seemed like a win might be out of reach.
Nevertheless, Eagles coach Frank Spaziani had an ace in the hole, and his name was Andre Williams. Williams rushed for 185 yards and a touchdown as Boston College defeated old rival Syracuse in the regular season finale for both teams.
"We know Andre's talent," Spaziani said. "Did we think he would have a day like that? Who could think that? He's a tough kid and he works hard, and as I said before, that's a good recipe for success."
Williams, who started in place of the injured Harris, broke the school record for carries in a game, rushing the ball an impressive 42 times. The amazing thing was that Williams didn't even know it until the game was over.
"Did I? Wow," Williams said after learning about his record-breaking performance. "I didn't know how much we were going to run, but I knew I definitely just had to make sure that we had a run game. I didn't know if Syracuse was expecting the run since Montel was out, but I was just thinking that we can't just be passing."
When all was said and done, Williams was simply thankful for the opportunity to shine.
"It was amazing just to be out there, knowing that it's the last game of the season," said Williams. "If we (win), we'd have a winning record. It was just a good feeling because I knew the team was behind me the whole time. We just did what we had to do."
Chase Rettig completed 11-of-19 passes for 110 yards and an interception for Boston College. Chris Pantale had three receptions for 66 yards to lead the Eagles' receivers.
Ryan Nassib finished the day 15-for-24 with 146 yards for Syracuse. Bailey had 71 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries and Marcus Sales caught five passes for 73 yards for the Orange.
Boston College and Syracuse both finished the regular season with overall records of 7-5. Both teams are bowl eligible.
"It's great," Rettig said about the Eagles' turnaround performance this season. "Dropping five straight and then coming back and getting five straight puts you with a winning record. Now, we can start talking about this bowl game."
Williams opened the game with a six yard run on first and 10 from the Eagles' 28 yard line. On the next play, fellow true freshman quarterback Chase Rettig hit receiver Bobby Swigert for an 18-yard gain and the first down. Williams rushed for four yards on first down from the Syracuse 44 yard line and Rettig connected with Swigert again, this time for a five yard gain to the right.
On third and one, Williams picked up the first down on a four yard rush up the middle, giving Boston College new life. Williams followed that play with a two-yard scamper up the middle. Then, Rettig passes to freshman Alex Amidon on back-to-back downs before Williams again carried the ball for an eight yard gain.
Williams rushed the ball on the next three downs to set the Eagles up with a second down and nine on the Orange 10 yard line. Rettig missed his next two passes, though, forcing a fourth and nine.
After a timeout, Eagles' kicker Nate Freese split the uprights on a 27-yard field goal to give Boston College an early 3-0 lead with 7:49 to play in the first quarter. The Eagles' scoring drive covered 62 yards on 15 plays.
"The first drive definitely made us feel confident," Rettig said. "The best thing about the first drive is what we haven't really been able to do much, which was convert on those early third downs."
The Eagles converted three times on third down in the opening drive, due in part to the performance of Williams.
"Andre played great today," Rettig said. "He was our offensive high. He stepped up, ran hard, and I've got to give a lot of credit to him and a lot of credit to our offensive line."
While Boston College couldn't score six, Rettig was still happy with the opening drive.
"Unfortunately, we didn't come away with a touchdown but we put three points on the board and just started off with some confidence," said Rettig. "That translated throughout the game from there."
Syracuse moved the ball 43 yards on six plays in its opening drive, but was forced to punt, setting Boston College up with a first and 10 on their own 17.
This time around, the Eagles' offense wasn't so successful, driving the ball just 25 yards on nine plays before punting with 11 seconds left in the first quarter.
Boston College had the ball for the majority of the first quarter, keeping the ball for nearly 12 minutes while Syracuse had the ball for nearly three minutes.
Neither team put together a successful drive in the first 11 minutes of the second quarter. Syracuse had two drives in the quarter and punted the ball away both times. Boston College went three and out on its first drive of the quarter and saw its second drive end when Rettig threw an interception.
Rettig's pass was intended for receiver Jonathan Coleman who stopped short instead of running a straight route towards the endzone. As a result, Rettig aired the ball out and was intercepted by Syracuse defender Kevyn Scott with 7:34 to play in the first half.
After Syracuse's second thee and out, the Eagles put together a solid drive to end that saw them drive 39 yards on seven plays. BC capped off the drive with another Freese field goal, this time from 29-yards out, to give the Eagles a 6-0 advantage heading into halftime.
The Orange put their first-half struggles behind them on the opening drive of the third quarter, driving 80 yards on 12 plays and scoring the game's first touchdown on a five-yard rush from Antwon Bailey with 9:39 left in the quarter. Ross Krautman made the extra point, and Syracuse had their first lead of the day.
During the drive, Boston College sophomore linebacker Luke Kuechly surpassed Tom McManus as the Eagle's single-season tackles leader with 166. Kuechly made a tackle on the first play of the second half and then stopped Bailey after a 13-yard run two plays later to pass McManus.
"I don't really look at that too much," Kuechly said about breaking McManus' record. "Winning is the most important thing. I don't just get tackles by myself. The defensive line is part of it, and they've done a great job of getting a push on the offensive line. It's a testament to the defensive line and the defense as a whole."
The sudden lead change didn't phase the Eagles, who silenced the amped up crowd with a 10-play, 78 yard drive that was capped off by a one-yard touchdown run from Williams on third and one, giving Boston College the 13-7 edge with 4:51 left in the third quarter. It wasn't easy, though, as the Orange stuffed the Eagles at the goal line on first and second down.
"It was hard," Williams said about getting the final two yards to the endzone. "We were kind of stumbling around a little bit in the red zone, but I knew that if we could drive down the field, we could definitely get two yards."
On the ensuing kickoff, Prince-Tyson Gulley returned the ball 17 yards but fumbled after a Kuechly hit him. The ball rolled towards the Orange endzone, but Gulley recovered it at their own five.
Despite the minor setback, Syracuse managed to work the ball down the field once again, going 22 yards in eight plays before they were forced to punt, giving the Eagles the ball heading into the fourth quarter.
Freese hit another field goal, this time from 22-yards out, to pad the Eagles' lead to 16-7 with 6:48 remaining in the game.
Syracuse had a shot to make things interesting with less than two minutes to play, but senior linebacker Mark Herzlich intercepted a pass to seal the Eagles' victory.
"It was sweet," Herzlich said about his interception. "It was just an exclamation point on the end of the season, really. It's been a very crazy season for me, and it was an awesome way to end it."
Herzlich and company will look to finish the 2010 season with their sixth straight win when Boston College participates in bowl season.
All things considered, it was an amazing way to finish a roller coaster season that saw the Eagles win two, lose five and win five all in succession.
"It was awesome," Herzlich said.