Boston College football loses season opener to Northern Illinois in overtime

The visitors won the possession battle, 36:53 to 20:47, and executed just enough to squeak out a win.

“They played their game, and we played right into it,” Boston College coach Jeff Hafley said. “That’s the disappointing thing. That’s what we could not let happen, and we did.”

BC alternated between quarterbacks throughout the game. Redshirt sophomore Emmett Morehead started and struggled before sophomore Thomas Castellanos replaced him on the third drive.

Castellanos, a Central Florida transfer, finished 13 for 28 for 138 yards, with two TDs and an interception, plus nine carries for 67 yards and a score on the ground — accounting for 68 percent of the Eagles’ offense. He brought a spark to a lifeless attack that desperately needed one, but he was inconsistent in key moments.

Morehead, who showed promise while starting the final four games last season, finished 4 for 10 for 30 yards.

Hafley said the Eagles came in with the plan that both would play because they both deserved to play. He also said the decision to put Castellanos in wasn’t indicative of the way Morehead performed, and he didn’t feel as though alternating affected the rhythm of either.

Linebacker Vinny DePalma said the Eagles were prepared to play with both QBs.

“Tommy runs around like a maniac and makes tremendous plays,” DePalma said. “That just is what it is. Emmett can really throw it. He has great command in the huddle. We knew it going into the week. Everyone in the locker room was good with it.”

The offensive line looked slightly less inept than it did last year, when BC finished last in the country with 63.3 rushing yards per game. The Eagles averaged 6.4 yards per carry for a total of 90 on the ground before the break. Otherwise, the BC offense struggled mightily the entire half, gaining just 45 yards in the air.

“I thought these guys would come out fast,” Hafley said. “I was wrong.”

Northern Illinois wasn’t much better offensively in the early going, but Antario Brown hauled in a 7-yard touchdown pass to put the Huskies ahead with 2:44 left in the half.

The visitors extended their lead to 14-0 on a 2-yard rush from Brown on the opening drive of the third quarter.

BC got the break it needed when defensive end Neto Okpala pressured Lombardi into losing the football, and Khris Banks recovered the fumble at the Huskies’ 25-yard line with 6:53 left in the third.

The hosts took advantage, as Castellanos delivered an 11-yard dart to a wide-open Lewis Bond (four catches, 40 yards) in the middle of the end zone to complete the five-play march. Liam Connor drilled the extra point to slice BC’s deficit in half, 14-7, with 4:58 left in the third.

Momentum was on BC’s side, but Castellanos badly underthrew Jaden Williams on the ensuing drive, and it was picked off by JaVaughn Byrd.

“That’s got to be a better ball,” Castellanos said. “The defense got a stop, and I was trying to be aggressive.”

Northern Illinois pushed its lead to 21-7 on a 1-yard plunge from Brock Lampe with 9:24 to play. The lethargic Eagles looked down and out, but in reality they were just getting started.

Castellanos kept BC afloat, circling the field like a Zamboni on fourth and 5 and finding Bond for a 10-yard gain and a scintillating first down. He described himself on Media Day as someone who makes “wild plays,” and it’s clear now that he wasn’t exaggerating.

“Those are like the crazy college football plays you watch for the next 25 years,” said DePalma, who had a game-high 12 tackles.

Just over two minutes later, Castellanos swerved into the end zone for a 2-yard score to trim the margin to 21-14 with 5:59 left.

The Huskies picked up two first downs and knocked 2½ minutes off the clock, but gave the Eagles the ball back with 3:23 left at BC’s 17. It took Castellanos less than two minutes to drive for the tie. He had runs for 16 and 10 yards, and hit Ryan O’Keefe on a 22-yard strike to get to the Huskies’ 30. On the next snap, he found Williams for a 30-yard TD to tie it.

BC took the ball first in OT, but after gaining just four yards in three plays had to settle for a Connor 39-yard field goal. The Huskies then took things over. After an incompletion, Lombardi hit Brock Lampe for a 16-yard gain to the BC 9. Gavin Williams had an 8-yard carry to set up Lombardi’s dive into the end zone for the win.

Hafley said defensive end Donovan Ezeiruaku addressed his teammates in the locker room and reminded them that they can’t let a season-opening loss spiral like it did last year.

“Nobody’s bailing out yet,” DePalma said. “I don’t really think anyone bailed out last year, and last year got pretty tough. We’re not even close to that yet.”