EagleAction - Thanks to Jurkovec’s Resurgent Second Half, BC Pulls Away From Duke
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Thanks to Jurkovec’s Resurgent Second Half, BC Pulls Away From Duke

Boston College quarterback Phil Jurkovec dropped back to pass at midfield, pump-faked, and before he could cock back his arm again, the Notre Dame transfer felt Duke’s Victor Dimukeje pulling him to the ground. Jurkovec tried to maintain his balance but was soon swallowed by Drew Jordan and two other Blue Devils and pushed back into BC territory. If it wasn’t for forward progress, the ball probably would have been marked down by the 35-yard line.

It was the second straight sack and fourth of day. Jurkovec was starting his first real football game since the Class 6A Pennsylvania State Championship on Dec. 9, 2017.

The former No. 87 Class of 2018 recruit had gone 1,015 days without a start.

And he looked the part.

Jurkovec completed just six of his first 11 attempts, forced an interception into double coverage, routinely stepped up into pressure, fumbled on a blind side hit, and even faked a handoff to an empty backfield on a 4th-and-1 in the second quarter. But first-year head coach Jeff Hafley never doubted his signal caller, who was officially named the starter before Saturday’s game.

“I told him at halftime, I said, ‘Just go play, man. You’re doing a great job,’” Hafley said. “After he threw the pick, I said, ‘Hey, no problem, go play.’ And look what he did in the second half.”

Jurkovec went 11-of-12 for 210 yards and two touchdowns over the course of the final two quarters, finished the day with 10 straight completions, and turned in BC’s first 300-yard passing game since Anthony Brown cleared the bar on Sept. 13, 2018 at Wake Forest. Jurkovec didn’t look back after intermission, and neither did BC. Fueled by five takeaways, the Eagles’ defense pitched a second-half shutout, en route to a 26-6 victory—the first of the Hafley era.

Hafley told reporters that BC wasn’t going to look like Ohio State on defense this year, but the former Buckeyes co-DC certainly rubbed off on a team that was coming off one of its worst defensive seasons in program history. That was evident right from the get-go.

BC forced back-to-back Duke three-and-outs at the start of the first quarter, in large part thanks to co-captain Marcus Valdez. The undersized but quick defensive end crashed inside and bottled up the Blue Devils’ backfield. Valdez set the tone for the Eagles’ defense, with five tackles, one sack, and a fumble recovery in the first quarter and a half of play.

Perhaps more promising, however, was BC’s first offensive series of the day: a 10-play, 81-yard touchdown drive capped off by a David Bailey score at the goal line. Everything was working for the Eagles on that series. Bailey was involved, Zay Flowers used his joysticks to make a handful of Blue Devils miss amid a 40-yard pass and catch, and Jurkovec converted a 4th-and-1 in the red zone with a quarterback sneak.

After that, though, offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti Jr.’s unit looked out of sorts. The rest of the half, BC averaged a lowly 1.2 yards per play.

The new-look offensive line struggled more than anyone could have expected. A group that returned four All-ACC starters and was one year removed from giving up just 13 sacks couldn’t seem to get it right in the first half.

Zion Johnson, now at left tackle, allowed a vicious Dimukeje sack. Tyler Vrabel, now at right tackle, had a holding call that negated a would-be first down on a Jurkovec zone-read run in the latter portion of the second quarter. Not only was the O-Line having a hard time protecting Jurkovec, but it also couldn’t carve up any holes for BC’s run game. The Eagles ran the ball 23 times in the first half for a measly 19 yards.

Duke, on the other hand, had much more success on the ground, particularly on its third drive of the game when Mataeo Durant burst through open green on the backside for a 49-yard touchdown, breaking a Mike Palmer tackle on the way to the end zone. The scoring drive followed Jurkovec’s ill-advised interception.

Redshirt freshman place kicker Charlie Ham missed the extra point, so the Blue Devils still trailed, 7-6. That said, it felt like the momentum had completely shifted.

The Blue Devils rounded out the first half with 182 yards of total offense. Aside from the first two drives of the game, they didn’t have a problem moving the ball down the field. Former Clemson backup Chase Brice primarily operated out of the pistol and empty set and was able to string together an array of short-to-intermediate completions, mainly to tight end Noah Gray and wide receiver Jake Bobo. Yet every time the Blue Devils came knocking on BC’s doorstep, the Eagles’ defense bailed itself out with a crucial stop or takeaway.

In the first half, it was an Isaiah McDuffie interception and a Chibueze Onwuka forced fumble, both of which occurred inside the BC 30-yard line. Then, near the start of the third quarter, sophomore cornerback Josh DeBerry ripped the ball from the hands of wide receiver Damon Philyaw-Johnson before he hit the turf, resulting in a BC fumble recovery. A Deon Jones strip sack and Jahmin Muse interception wrapped up the five-takeaway effort in the fourth quarter. Still, BC scored just six points off those turnovers.

The Eagles pulled away because of Jurkovec and their offense. Following a 24-yard Danny Longman field goal and a subsequent 35-yard Charlie Ham miss, Jurkovec changed the game with a four-play, 80-yard drive. It was the kind of series that BC fans have only dreamed of the past decade. Four passes, a one-handed Hunter Long catch (despite DPI), a highlight-reel stop-and-go move from Zay Flowers, and an improvised touchdown pass to Long after Jurkovec escaped a Chris Rumph II sack.

Longman missed the PAT, but BC had a 16-6 lead, and it was only 1:13 of game time before the Eagles put the contest out of reach.

On the first play of the Eagles’ ensuing drive, Jurkovec rolled to his right before unloading a 61-yard touchdown pass to a wide-open Zay Flowers.

“I already knew nobody was there,” Flowers said. “I hit him with the 1-2, and I already knew I was out. It was over.”

Flowers trotted his way into the end zone, capping a five-reception, 162-yard performance. He’s the first Eagles wide receiver to eclipse the 100-yard mark in a game since Kobay White did it twice during the 2018 season.

A third Jurkovec touchdown pass was negated by an Alec Lindstrom unnecessary roughness penalty, yet the Eagles extended their lead to 26-6 with another chip-shot Longman field goal. The O-Line, which largely redeemed itself in the second half, ended on a good note.

“I went into the huddle on that last drive, and I looked at them, and I said, ‘Guys, we’re going to run the ball every play here, so go win us the game,’” Halfey told reporters.

That’s exactly what BC did. The Eagles called four straight rushing plays, moved the chains, and milked the clock, ending the game in victory formation while Hafley received a Gatorade bath on the sideline, signifying his first win as a head coach.

To him, though, Saturday’s game was about his team—a group that hasn’t produced a positive COVID-19 test since the end of June.

“I’m giving every one of those players a game ball,” Hafley said. “And when they look back on that date, they’re going to remember one of the hardest points of their lives that they had to battle through and sacrifice. No one will ever take this day from them.”