BC’s Trip to UMass a Blast from the Past for New England Football
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BC’s Trip to UMass a Blast from the Past for New England Football

Photo courtesy of BC Football
Photo courtesy of BC Football

Boston College played Holy Cross for the first time in 32 years in 2018. It was a blowout, but 40,311 fans turned out to Alumni Stadium, with various shades of purple coating the visitors’ side bleachers. Two years earlier, the Eagles hosted UConn. Again, a lopsided affair. Actually, the Huskies didn’t score a point. Still, 36,220 fans came—more than all but one of BC’s home games that season (Clemson was the exception, naturally).

Although BC is by and far the most prominent college football team in New England, there’s interest and passion for the sport throughout the region.

It will show again Saturday when the Eagles travel to Amherst for the first time since 1982. The last six matchups in the teams’ 26-game series have been played either in Chestnut Hill or at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro.

BC head coach Jeff Hafley had a say in the decision to bring the series back to Amherst.

“They said, ‘Hey, would you mind playing UMass at UMass?’” Hafley recounted. “I’ll play anybody wherever they want to play us. Our team and myself, we don’t care where we play. That has very little to do with anything. If we play UMass, that’s just like another away game for us.”

He continued: “I don’t see why [BC hasn’t] played there in the past. I don’t know why we wouldn’t play there in the past. I respect UMass. I respect the staff. I respect the team. Our team respects their team. And if it’s our turn to go and play there, then we’ll get on a bus, and we’ll go play there. It’s as easy as that.”

Hafley doesn’t mind the bus. He’s used to it. Pretty much every college coach is. He said he remembers preparing for 10-hour drives when he first started coaching. He would worry about if all the lunches for the players and staff were loaded up. At the time, though, he was just happy to have his own seat.

“I thought I was the king of the world,” Hafley said.

The former NFL assistant said that when he was with the Cleveland Browns, they would bus to Pittsburgh to play the Steelers. Same thing when he was the co-defensive coordinator at Ohio State: The Buckeyes would bus to Ann Arbor to play Michigan. Rivalry game with a bus ride.

It’s a similar story here, except, like the two aforementioned rivalries, things haven’t been close of late. In fact, the only thing close about BC and UMass has been their physical proximity.

The Eagles have won 10 straight games against the Minutemen. In six meetings since 2004, BC has averaged 34.8 points per game versus UMass, piling up a whopping 55 in 2018.

BC leads the series, 21-5. UMass’ last victory actually came in Amherst in 1978: The Minutemen blanked an infamous 0-11 BC team that averaged 13.9 points per game.

It’s been a while since then. And it’s been a while since UMass has enjoyed much of any success on the gridiron. The Minutemen are a combined 19-82 since moving up to the FBS in 2012, and they’re 1-16 under Walt Bell, who took over after Mark Whipple’s five-year run.

Whipple, now the offensive coordinator for Pittsburgh, didn’t let up on his old team last weekend, helping the Panthers put up 51 in a season-opening rout of UMass.

“Overall, I know the record hasn’t shown for Coach Bell,” Hafley said. “I do think you’re going to start to see it take off. I have a lot of respect for him and what he’s doing. And we have our work cut for us.”

There’s a level of respect among the players at BC and UMass. A lot of them played against or with each other in high school.

Center Alec Lindstrom, for instance, was teammates with UMass linebacker Zack Magdis at Shepherd Hill Regional. He’s familiar with several other Minutemen but isn’t taking to social media or iMessage to talk trash.

“I’m worried about watching the film and letting the play do the talking,” Lindstrom said. “I’m super excited to go out there. I’ve got the whole crew out there.”

The crew is the Lindstrom clan, which Lindstrom appropriately classified as a village. He said four of his siblings, his grandma, his “mimi,” as well as his parents and a collection of uncles and aunts are making the trek from Central to Western Massachusetts for Saturday’s game. And that doesn’t even include hometown friends.

“I’m surprised they don’t even have their own section right now for the Lindstrom clan,” he joked.

BC wide receiver CJ Lewis, who played quarterback for Cheshire Academy in Connecticut, is excited for this weekend, too. He believes New England football is “very underrated.”

“Obviously, we don’t get the same hype as down South or the West Coast,” Lewis said. “But New England has ballers.”

In the past five years alone, some of BC’s most productive players, not only in Chestnut Hill but beyond college football, have come from the New England pipeline. AJ Dillon (New London, Connecticut) is the program’s all-time leading rusher. Offensive guard Chris Lindstrom (Dudley, Massachusetts) was BC’s first opening-round draft pick since Luke Kuechly in 2012. And Hunter Long (Exeter, New Hampshire) is the highest-drafted tight end in BC history.

Hafley sees the benefit of a matchup like Saturday’s, particularly because it brings fans together from different parts of the state who can drive in to see the game.

“I think it’s great for the region,” Hafley said. “Any chance we can get to spread our brand out across New England, we should. Whether it’s playing UMass, whether it’s playing UConn, whether it’s playing anybody in [New England].

“I think it’s good for the area.”