Boston College becomes bowl eligible by grinding out a victory at Syracuse

College Sports

The Eagles defense recorded four interceptions to halt the Syracuse offense.

The Eagles won another slugfest, 17-10 at Syracuse. (Photo by Bryan M. Bennett/Getty Images)

All season, Boston College coach Jeff Hafley has preached the importance of depth. When starters depart, Hafley hammers home that reserves have to be ready.

That depth was on full display Friday, as the Eagles leaned on fifth-string running back Andre Hines Jr. to cement a gutsy, 17-10 win at Syracuse. Hines, who hadn’t played a down in three-plus years at BC, racked up five carries for 32 yards in the clutch.

“I gave him the game ball in there. He had tears in his eyes. Guys picked him up. That’s a moment he’ll never forget,” Hafley said. “That’s college football. That’s why you stick it out. That’s why you don’t leave, so you have moments like this.”

Quarterback Thomas Castellanos scored the clincher from 7 yards out with 2:23 left. Cole Batson intercepted a pass, BC’s fourth pick of the game, and the Eagles outlasted the Orange at the JMA Wireless Dome.

Boston College (6-3, 3-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) has won five straight for the first time since 2010 and is bowl eligible.

“We’re happy. We’re going to go to a bowl,” Hafley said. “But now we’re going to get to a better one. We know that the path is there to do a lot more. I can’t wait for that.”

Syracuse (4-5, 0-5) built a first-quarter lead before the Eagles finished the half convincingly to take a 10-7 edge into the break. Neither side scored in the third quarter, and after Syracuse tied it early in the fourth, BC wore them down and eventually found a way.

Boston College redshirt freshman CJ Clinkscales, making his first career start, intercepted a pass early to set the Eagles up near midfield. Castellanos hit Dino Tomlin and Lewis Bond for first downs, but BC settled for a 24-yard field goal from Liam Connor with 4:55 left in the first quarter.

Syracuse, playing without starting quarterback Garrett Shrader, turned to redshirt sophomore Carlos Del Rio-Wilson. The 6-foot-2, 222-pound bruiser found a hole and ran 27 yards untouched into the end zone to give the Orange a 7-3 edge through one.

Castellanos and Kye Robichaux couldn’t complete a handoff on the next BC drive, as Anwar Sparrow recovered a fumble near midfield. Both teams punted, then Elijah Jones intercepted a pass in the end zone and the Eagles orchestrated a methodical 18-play, 80-yard drive over 7:59 to pull ahead. It was the kind that has defined this streak and helped BC turn its season around.

The Eagles — who entered converting an ACC-best 73.1 percent of the time on fourth down — kept the drive afloat twice on fourth and 1. They benefited from a pass interference call in the end zone before Castellanos found redshirt sophomore Owen McGowan for a 2-yard touchdown with 48 seconds left in the half.

McGowan, a Canton native and former Catholic Memorial star who typically plays linebacker, hauled in his first career reception at a critical moment.

“I don’t think they were expecting me to go for a pass,” McGowan said. “It was an easy walk-in.”

The Orange missed a 56-yard field goal as time expired in a half in which BC possessed the ball for nearly 22 minutes and ran 48 plays to Syracuse’s 25.

The teams traded punts the bulk of the third quarter. Castellanos went airborne and thought he converted on fourth and 1, but the referees deemed him short.

SU’s LeQuint Allen immediately ripped off a 56-yard run, and the Orange entered the red zone late in the third quarter. Brady Denaburg nailed a 36-yard field goal to tie it at 10 with 14:18 remaining.

The Eagles moved into SU territory, but Justin Barron trucked Robichaux, forced and recovered a fumble, and ran it into BC territory. Jones picked off another pass, though, then the Eagles successfully executed a fake punt as Sam Candotti scampered six yards for the first down.

Candotti, a sophomore from Australia, screamed in excitement as he galloped off the field. Moments later, Candotti punted for real, but BC got another stop.

The Eagles, playing without their top three running backs in Robichaux, Pat Garwo, and Alex Broome, leaned on Hines — who isn’t listed on the depth chart — to salt it away.

“It’s like taking body shot after body shot after body shot,” Hafley said of defending BC’s run game, which totaled 185 yards on 57 carries Friday. “Eventually, you’re going to fall down.”

Batson leaped up to corral a final pick and that was that. The streak continues, and the path to an ACC championship game appearance is very much alive.

“This team has grown together,” Castellanos said. “We’re getting closer and closer.”