Matt Ryan, who was originally slated to start the out-of-conference game despite a lingering left foot injury, was a late scratch due to the oppressive weather conditions. Crane filled in comfortably for the junior captain, save for a few rain-induced fumbles and incompletions.
“I think [Crane] did a great job, considering the circumstance,” Tom O’Brien said after the game. “It’s extremely hard to come in and play anyway, but to come in and play under those circumstances when you can’t hold onto the ball and have trouble throwing. You know, he did a nice job managing the game, I’m sure he would have held the ball better if it was a little drier conditions, but I though he did a great job for what we asked him to do today.”
Crane finished with 142 yards passing and three touchdowns - two on the ground and one through the air - but his main function was to give way to L.V. Whitworth and Andre Callender, who were responsible for 165 of the team’s season-high 207 rushing yards and a touchdown (a season-high, 43-yard blast through the left side by Whitworth in the third quarter).
O’Brien and offensive coordinator Dana Bible knew beforehand that the play selection would weigh heavily in favor of the rushing game. The Bulls entered Saturday’s game having allowed a conference-low 227 yards on the ground and the Eagles’ claim one of the heaviest and most physical offensive lines in the country. And when 50-mph gusts of wind and monsoon-like rain showers terrorized the Chestnut Hill area, the coach knew the ball would have to remain on the ground, and the statistics showed it. The Eagles ran 48 rushing plays as opposed to just 26 passes.
“I think the weather had a lot to do with that,” O’Brien said. “When you have trouble getting the snap like we did and [Crane] goes back and sets his feet and throws the ball and it goes out of his hands and things like that, you think, ‘Well, we gotta run the ball a little more.’”
The mismatch on the line was apparent from the start. On five first-half drives (excluding one that was cut short by the halftime whistle), the Eagles scored four times, aided primarily by a lopsided battle in the trenches and some crafty scrambling by Crane. Dejaun Tribble set the offense up with ideal field position by reeling off punt returns of 20 and 69 yards on Ben Woods’ first two kicks of the game. After the first return, Whitworth exploded forward for a 20-yard run on his first carry and Crane scrambled for 15 yards and a first down three plays later on third-and-13. The two big runs highlighted a 47-yard drive that ended with a 25-yard field goal by Steve Aponavicius, who continued his perfect season with two field goals and five extra-points on a less-than favorable kicking day.
“During the game, at times there was an inch of standing water when I was trying to kick,” the sophomore walk-on said about the on-field conditions. “Chris [Crane] did a really good job of getting the water out of the way along with me and then – I had the easy part today, I think a lot of credit needs to go to Jack [Geiser], our snapper, and Chris for getting everything down. And they did a phenomenal job and everyone says how hard it is to kick in the rain, but the hard part is getting the snap and the hold down.”
The first points of the afternoon opened the flood gates for an Eagles offense that was determined not to have a let-down after an emotionally charged win in Florida State last weekend. Tribble’s second return, the 69-yarder, brought the ball all the way down to the Bulls’ 15-yard line. Just five plays later, Crane scored the first touchdown of his career on a four-yard run to the front-left pylon on the corner of the end zone. The play was not without its obstacles, however. Crane initially attempted to throw it to an open Mark Palmer, but the ball slipped backward out of his hands as he went to throw and Crane improvised by picking the ball up and scrambling toward the corner of the end zone. The line judge on the left side called Crane down inches away from a score, but replay officials reversed the decision and the Eagles had an early 10-0 lead.
“The line did a great job protecting,” Crane said about the broken-play-turned-touchdown, “and I picked it up and saw an opening to the left and just took off. I thought that I hit the pylon, but I’m pretty confident we would have put it in on the next play if they didn’t rule it a touchdown.”
With two more scores on the board before the end of the half (an eight-yard scramble by Crane and an eight-yard strike from Crane to Palmer), the Eagles went into the locker room soaking wet, but with a 24-0 advantage. The gaudy lead didn’t shake their concentration, however, as they returned in the second half with more firepower. Whitworth’s 43-yarder and a 30-yard field goal by Aponavicius in the third quarter and a five-yard TD run by third-string, sophomore running back A.J. Brooks in the fourth made up the crooked 41 on BC’s side of the scoreboard.
The offense was efficient and the running game overpowering, but the defense was stifling and made sure the Bulls’ offense was off the field as long as possible. True freshman Mark Herzlich, who started in place of captain Jolonn Dunbar, played like a four-year starter. He recorded 14 tackles – everywhere the ball went, Herzlich went – a tackle for a loss, and a forced fumble. Behind the impressive play of the rising difference-maker, the Eagles’ defense allowed the Bulls to register just six first downs all afternoon. Five turnovers were caused by five different members of BC’s defense: a tipped interception by Kevin Akins in the first, Herzlich’s forced fumble on Drew Willy, Buffalo’s sophomore quarterback, in the second, another strip of Willy by freshman Austin Giles and a tip-toeing, sideline pick by Jamie Silva in the third, and an interception in the end zone by Paul Anderson at the end of the game to preserve the shutout. The Bulls ran just 14 times and the Eagles pushed them backward for negative-12 yards. The very few times when Buffalo was at all successful offensively, the Eagles pounced with a timely turnover.
“Our goal every week is to hold the other team to zero points,” Herzlich said after the game. “…I think we showed that we were BC and that we played BC football for the whole game and I think if they had scored in the last couple minutes, I don’t know if we could have been able to say we played 100% or all 60 minutes. 60 minutes is what we try to do every game.”
Ryan and Dunbar didn’t play because of a late doctor’s decision, according to O’Brien. The team was hoping to have them ready for Saturday’s game, but practiced all week as though Crane and Herzlich would start to be properly prepared for the worst.
“Coach felt that this week it was best that I get off my feet and let Chris go out there and play,” Ryan said after the game. “I’m thankful for the little bit of rest and hopefully it pays off over the next couple of weeks.”
The Eagles will return to conference play next Saturday night, when they clash with the Wake Forest Demon Deacons in Winston-Salem. In all likelihood, Ryan won’t be watching that one from the sidelines.