“I was very pleased with the outcome,” BC head coach Tom O’Brien said after the game. “It was probably the best game we’ve played in a long time, especially on defense.”
Junior linebacker Jolonn Dunbar had a career day, registering a personal best in tackles and scoring two touchdowns on fumble recoveries on the first two possessions of the game.
“I guess it was just my day,” Dunbar said afterwards with a toothy grin.
Dunbar 14, Maryland 0. Just three minutes into the game, Ryan and the BC offense had yet to step foot on the field and Dunbar had already scored twice. On the second play from scrimmage, Maryland’s Sam Hollenbach ran left and tossed an option pitch to wide receiver Danny Oquendo, who was greeted harshly by Larry Anam. The ball flew backwards, Hollenbach tried unsuccessfully to pick it up, and Dunbar scooped and ran for 14 yards and a touchdown.
On the following possession, Hollenbach pitched it to the opposite side, this time to Ball at the Terps’ 41-yard line. But the pitch was low and Ball couldn’t handle it. Dunbar was there again and caught the bouncing ball in stride, on his way to a 38-yard touchdown return.
“The first one I was just running to the ball and it just happened to pop out,” Dunbar said. “The quarterback tried to jump on it and it squirted out again and I thought, ‘This must be my lucky day.’ The second one, I just couldn’t believe it happened again…I was kind of wishing for a third.”
In BC’s regular-season finale last year, again against the Terps, Dunbar, making his first career start, set a school record when he took a fumble back 94 yards for a touchdown. His two fumble-return TDs on Saturday tied an NCAA record for a single game. Only three other players in the nation had accomplished the feat since the association starting keeping the stat in 1992.
Ryan, who didn’t touch the ball until 6:36 left in the first quarter, threw for 133 yards and two touchdowns in the second quarter after attempting only four passes in the first. With 4:00 to go in the half, Ryan faked a handoff and lobbed a pass over a Maryland linebacker to a wide open Tony Gonzalez streaking toward the end zone. The 34-yard score put the Eagles up 21-3 and was Gonzalez’s sixth TD catch of more than 25 yards in his career.
The Eagles’ defense then forced a three-and-out and the ball was quickly returned to their offense on the next possession. With 2:24 remaining before the break, Ryan ran a two-minute drill to perfection. As the clock ticked below the one-minute mark, Ryan hit Brandon Robinson on third-and-one. A short pass on the inside turned into a 17-yard touchdown when Robinson bolted through the secondary into the maroon paint. A last-second, 37-yard field goal by Dan Ennis gave three points back to the Terps, but they still trailed the Eagles 28-6 at the half.
When the BC offense failed to put together a scoring drive in the third, the defense once again picked up the slack. With 4:28 to go in the quarter, Hollenbach overthrew Oquendo on the left sideline and Dejuan Tribble capitalized on the bad pass. Tribble made the interception on the Maryland 42-yard line and ran down the open sideline and soared into the end zone (an unnecessary dive that cost the Eagles 15 yards on the ensuing kickoff) for his second-career touchdown return. The touchdown inflated the Eagles’ lead to 26 points and the fourth quarter was rapidly approaching.
“I just tried to bait the quarterback a little, give him a different look,” Tribble said about his pick. “When the opportunity is there, you got to make the best of the opportunity. I was just excited at the time…I didn’t have to dive.”
Aided by 30 yards in BC penalties (Tribble’s penalty on the kickoff and a dead-ball personal foul on true freshman Wes Davis), Maryland scored its only touchdown of the afternoon at the end of the third on a halfback pitch and pass. Senior tailback Josh Allen took the pitch from Hollenbach on the right side and lofted a nine-yard touchdown pass to Oquendo, who was wide open in the back of the end zone.
L.V. Whitworth finished the day with exactly 100 yards on the ground, marking the first time in his career that he reached the century mark in consecutive games (he collected 118 yards last week against Duke).
Fourty-four of Whitworth’s 100 came in the fourth quarter, when the Eagles needed to exhaust the clock and keep Maryland’s offense off the field for as long as possible to prevent a comeback. On the opening drive of the quarter, the BC offensive line consistently opened gaping holes and Whitworth ran through them. He collected a total of 32 yards, setting up Steve Aponavicius’ only field goal of the game, a 21-yarder that finished the scoring for both teams.
The Eagles’ defense switched to a prevent-style, bend-but-don’t-break formation and Hollenbach and the Terps’ offense threatened to score two more times in the fourth, advancing the ball inside BC’s 10-yard line both times. But an interception by Jamie Silva - his fourth of the year - in the front of the BC end zone and a turnover on downs from the Eagles’ five kept the score at 38-16.
Silva’s interception was BC’s second of the game, the sixth-straight game that the Eagles have recorded at least two picks. It also was just the second time Hollenbach, the ACC’s second-highest rated quarterback, has thrown two interceptions in a game. Back on September 14th, Hollenbach was picked off twice by West Virginia.
Saturday’s win was the first stage of a four-part scenario that would put the Eagles in the ACC Championship game. They would need to beat Miami in Coral Gables on Thanksgiving night and hope for Wake Forest to lose its final two games of the season. Regardless of what Wake does, however, O’Brien realizes what today’s win means to the program and what further significance a win in Miami would have.
By beating Maryland in the home finale, O’Brien’s team went undefeated at home this season, the first time since Heisman-winning quarterback Doug Flutie and the Cotton-Bowl-bound Eagles did so in 1984. If BC takes down the Hurricanes on Thursday, they would be the first 10-win, BC team since the ’84 Eagles and just the third in school history.
“Yeah, they know what they have a chance to do,” O’Brien said.