Grosel Replaces Injured Jurkovec, Fends Off Louisville on Senior Day
Jeff Hafley watched as Boston College backup quarterback Dennis Grosel took snaps from Alec Lindstrom, the Eagles’ starting center who enrolled with Grosel as a mid-year in January 2017.
“I heard [Dennis] say to Alec, ‘Hey man, it’s like riding a bike,’” Hafley said after the game. “And they kind of looked at each other and laughed.”
For the second year in a row against Louisville, Grosel, a former preferred walk-on, was replacing an injured BC starting quarterback. Last year, he filled in for Anthony Brown and started the final seven games of the season. This time, Phil Jurkovec was hurt. The Notre Dame transfer appeared to sustain a non-contact, left knee injury midway through the third quarter and limped off the field. Before long, he was moving up and down the sideline with a headset on.
But Jurkovec wasn’t coming back in. This was Grosel’s moment.
And he ran with it—literally.
On Grosel’s fifth play from scrimmage, he faked a handoff to Travis Levy, followed a CJ Lewis block, and flipped on the accelerator, dusting off his wheels while running away from Louisville’s Russ Yeast. Grosel cut back, completely turning around the defensive back, and plowed forward to finish the 44-yard run.
BC’s sideline erupted in jubilation. The play led to the first of Grosel’s two touchdown passes, and the redshirt junior thwarted Louisville’s comeback, securing a 34-27 Senior Day victory.
The Eagles (6-4, 5-4 Atlantic Coast) and Cardinals (3-7, 2-7) combined for four touchdowns in the final frame, however, in the first three quarters, points came at a premium—not because the Atlantic Division foes couldn’t move the chains but because of turnovers and missed chances.
Hassan Hall returned the opening kickoff 44 yards to midfield. Two plays later, he shot through a massive hole like a pinball on an outside zone run play, picking up 21 yards in the process. Hall had reservations for six, but John Lamot made the touchdown-saving, shoe-string tackle at the BC 21-yard line. That’s where Louisville’s offense stalled. James Turner capped the drive with a 44-yard field goal to give the Cardinals the early lead.
Louisville’s opening series lasted only two minutes and 27 seconds. BC, which ranks fourth in the ACC in time of possession, responded with a drive more double that length. It was the first of two five-plus minute series of the half for the Eagles.
Offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti Jr. slowed the game down with his tailbacks, attacking an 87th-ranked Louisville rush defense that entered the week having given up the third-most 10-plus yard runs in the FBS this season. To make matters worse, the Cardinals were without defensive tackles Jared Goldwire and Dezmond Tell.
David Bailey, Travis Levy, and Pat Garwo all heard their numbers called on the drive, and Zay Flowers even got in on the ground game with a jet sweep. BC methodically pushed the ball downfield all the way to the Louisville 6-yard line before Jurkovec fumbled on a quarterback sneak. Forward progress wasn’t called, and Louisville recovered.
The Cardinals—who came in with the second-most giveaways in the country—were on the right side of the turnover battle for all of two minutes and 25 seconds.
Malik Cunningham zipped a 13-yard pass to Tutu Atwell. The speedy wideout started to reach high gear in open space before dropping the ball and falling on the wet turf of Alumni Stadium. The on-and-off rain in Chestnut Hill seemed to get the best of Atwell. He wasn’t the only one.
After a vintage Bailey pile-push touchdown run gave BC a 7-3 lead, Hall lost grip of the rock. The veteran Louisville back went east-to-west on an outside zone run and saw the ball pop loose as soon as BC safety Jahmin Muse wrapped him up. Cam Horsley recovered Louisville's nation-worst 12th fumble of the season, and the Eagles orchestrated another five-plus minute drive. It started with a 27-yard pop pass to Flowers yet culminated in a 23-yard Aaron Boumerhi field goal after Jurkovec—who was 15-of-19 for 203 yards before the injury—missed a wide-open Spencer Witter in the red zone.
Cunningham tied the game at 10-10 in a heartbeat. The dual-threat accounted for 427 yards of total offense, including 133 on the ground. Regardless if he was scrambling away from BC’s quarterback spy or running the speed option, Cunningham was gobbling up chunks of yards at a time.
“He’s a dynamic player,” Hafley said. “They threw some new stuff at us with him running the ball. And we had him a few times. He made a bunch of guys miss, and he ran away from a lot of guys.”
Cunningham had three runs of 18-plus yards on the Cardinals’ game-tying drive, the last of which sidelined him for a play because of what looked to be a wrist injury. Evan Conley came in for one play and watched Jalen Mitchell take a handoff in for six.
A check-down pass to Levy went for 46 yards on the Eagles’ ensuing drive. Levy added an 11-yard reception a few plays later. Once again, though, BC couldn’t find the paint in the red zone and had to settle for a 27-yard field goal, going into the half with a 13-10 advantage.
The Eagles didn’t have any issue reaching the plane on their first drive of the second half. Jurkovec hit Jaelen Gill, Flowers, and Witter for completions of 14, 17, and 21 yards respectively, and Bailey finished the job with a leap at the goal line for his second touchdown of the day. The junior tailback ended up leaving the game with an upper body injury and did not return.
His absence didn’t stop BC’s rushing attack. In large part thanks to the O-Line, which paved the way for 188 yards on the ground and didn’t give up a single sack, Levy and Garwo continued to find success, particularly down the stretch.
Cunningham, who BC linebacker Max Richardson says is nicknamed “magic,” kept up his disappearing act on the Cardinals’ subsequent drive, evading Isaiah McDuffie for a critical 3rd-and-8 conversion. Shortly after that, he dialed up a 27-yard pass to Atwell. Yet BC’s defense stood tall to force another Turner field goal and preserve at least a touchdown lead.
Jurkovec went down on the following drive after planting his left foot and awkwardly misfiring on a short pass intended for Levy. In came Grosel, but it wasn’t until the next series that the Willoughby, Ohio, native would get the gears churning again.
The teams traded punts before Grosel’s game-changing run. Two Louisville personal fouls sling-shotted BC into the red zone. Grosel was nearly picked on 1st-and-Goal. The next play, though, he didn’t miss.
“I had 1-on-1 backside, and I was just praying that Dennis looked my way,” Lewis said.
Grosel put the fade on the money, Lewis pried loose from cornerback Kei’Trel Clark, and the strong-bodied wide receiver nabbed the ball with his left hand in the back of the end zone—a catch that, in his mind, topped his show-stopping, juggling grab at Clemson last month.
Now trailing, 27-13, Cunningham answered with an 11-play, 78-yard touchdown drive, despite, at one point, being backed up with a 1st-and-25. Cunningham connected with Atwell for a gain of 26 on 4th-and-5 and went back to his No. 1 target at the goal line for a four-yard score.
A 43-yard kickoff return by Levy and a 22-yard Garwo run put BC in field goal range. Grosel had different plans. Facing a 3rd-and-6, he threw a dart to Jehlani Galloway, who sprinted a few yards before extending the ball past the plane to restore the Eagles’ two-touchdown cushion.
The 14-point lead was short-lived. Cunningham pitched a bubble screen to Dez Fitzpatrick, and the redshirt senior wideout cruised 69 yards to the end zone to make it a 34-27 game. BC chewed some clock on the next drive, forcing Louisville to use two of its timeouts.
The Cardinals had the third in their back pocket for their two-minute drill, which was over before it really threatened overtime. Near midfield, BC defensive coordinator Tem Lukabu brought pressure. Cunningham’s pass was tipped by Chibueze Onwuka and intercepted by Shittah Sillah, marking Louisville’s 24th turnover of the season and sealing the Eagles’ win.
Grosel handed the ball off to Levy three final times, and the clock hit triple zeroes. Hafley found his backup quarterback, gave him a hug, and told him that he loved him.
“He’s one of our best leaders,” Hafley said. “Never complains, never says a word. All he does is prepare. And when his time came, he took the game over. And he made huge plays. It’s such a good example for our young guys to see. That’s football, and that’s life. You might not like where you are right now. But just keep working because your time will come.”
Two years ago, Grosel was wearing No. 20 and filling out the bottom half of BC’s six-player quarterback depth chart. He saw three Eagles signal callers transfer from the program the following offseason. Six weeks into the 2019 campaign, he was called into action and threw three touchdown passes in a valiant road loss.
It was déjà vu on Saturday evening. And even though Grosel had only thrown one pass all year and hadn’t gotten a single first-team rep this week, he didn’t skip a beat.
After all, to him, quarterbacking is like riding a bike.
“Hop back on and hang on for the ride,” Grosel said with a smile.