Holy Cross, lightning almost burn Boston College, but host Eagles barely hang on

College Sports

Boston College linebacker Vinny DePalma recovers a fumble at the Eagles’ 33-yard line to turn away Holy Cross and secure the 31-28 victory Saturday at Alumni Stadium. Barry Chin/Globe Staff

With 1 minute, 58 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter, and Holy Cross down by 3 with the ball, lightning struck near Alumni Stadium.

The majority of Boston College fans darted for shelter and never returned. Holy Cross students, meanwhile, stayed in a pack behind the end zone and partied in the rain. Some took their shirts off, others sprinted across the field, and they collectively hollered and chanted through a delay that lasted 2 hours, 13 minutes.

“I was like, ‘Where did all our fans go?’ ’’ BC quarterback Thomas Castellanos said. “It was crazy. All I seen was purple.”

When the action resumed at 5:33 p.m., Holy Cross quarterback Matthew Sluka immediately ripped off a 35-yard run. Three plays later, BC defensive end Neto Okpala knocked the ball out of Sluka’s hands and linebacker Vinny DePalma pounced on it to recover the fumble with 1:10 on the clock.

The Eagles escaped with a 31-28 win, barely avoiding their first loss to a Football Championship Subdivision opponent since 1978. BC was fortunate to prevail, following an evenly matched, back-and-forth battle between two local programs trending in opposite directions.

It was an inconsistent showing at best for the spiraling Eagles (1-1), who committed 10 penalties for the second straight week. At the same time, there were some bright spots against a pesky and passionate Crusaders (1-1) team that wouldn’t go away.

“I’m thrilled we won. I’m proud of the team,” an equally fiery BC coach Jeff Hafley said. “But that stuff is going to end. Hear me loud and clear: We are going to win games. I cannot wait to get back to work.”

One positive for BC is that the quarterback controversy appears to be resolved. After mixing and matching between Castellanos and Emmett Morehead in a head-scratching Week 1 overtime loss to Northern Illinois, Hafley elected to keep his plans a secret heading into this one.

Castellanos got the nod and proved Hafley right for the most part. He played the entire game and fared admirably, finishing 17 for 23 passing with two touchdowns and no interceptions, plus 16 carries for 69 yards.

Long scoring marches were the story from the start. The Eagles opened the action with a 14-play, 85-yard drive that spanned 6:08. Western Kentucky transfer Kye Robichaux (19 carries, 94 yards, 1 TD) bulldozed his way into the end zone from 3 yards out to put the Eagles ahead, 7-0.

Holy Cross responded with a 15-play, 75-yard drive that lasted 8:53, eating up the rest of the opening quarter, and ended on the first play of the second quarter with a 2-yard plunge from Jordan Fuller that tied the game.

BC answered with yet another 14-play drive, eating up 7:45 of clock — this one closing with a 14-yard touchdown run from Ryan O’Keefe.

The hosts finally got a stop, and responded with the game’s first big play — a 47-yard Castellanos pass to Jaden Williams to earn first and goal at the Crusaders’ 6-yard line. From third and goal at the 2, Eagles tight end George Takacs hauled in the scoring pass to make it 21-7 with 1:23 left in the half.

But the ensuing kickoff went out of bounds, and BC got nailed with a personal foul, giving the Crusaders the ball at midfield. Sluka (10 for 15, 130 yards; 19 carries, 131 yards, 2 TDs) responded with two big completions — 10 yards to Jalen Coker, and 32 yards to Justin Shorter to set up at the Eagles’ 8. On the next play, Sluka ran it in to make it 21-14 with 46 seconds left in the half.

The Eagles had time for an answer, got the benefit of a pass interference penalty, and Castellanos hit Dino Tomlin for an 18-yard gain, setting up Liam Connor for a 37-yard field goal to push the lead to 10 at the half.

While Holy Cross was hanging around, BC’s size up front was evident the entire way — racking up 275 yards and scoring on every possession.

“I think we could have run the ball for 6 yards a clip and scored every possession if we didn’t go backward,” Hafley said.

But Sluka and Holy Cross struck first in the second half, taking the ball 79 yards on just five plays, with his second 8-yard TD run trimming the margin to 24-21. The big play was a 45-yard run by Fuller to the Eagles’ 10.

The Crusaders defense finally held, and did so again, but couldn’t capitalize offensively. The Eagles had a short field to work with, starting at the HC 43 with two minutes left in the third. A 23-yard pass to Lewis Bond set up first and goal, and Castellanos hit tight end Jeremiah Franklin for a 5-yard score to make it 31-21 on the first play of the fourth quarter.

But Holy Cross battled back again, converting on fourth and 1 in its own territory and eventually completing the 12-play, 75-yard march with a 15-yard rush from Fuller with 7:26 left on the clock.

Then came the lightning. The Eagles dejectedly trudged off the field, while the Crusaders beckoned to their fans and started the party.

Hafley sensed in the locker room that his players were down. He reminded them that they were winning, and he wanted them to act like it. DePalma acknowledged it was a unique sight to witness the Holy Cross fans sticking it out through the delay.

“I think in my six years here, I’ve seen everything now,” DePalma said. “That was crazy. I’ve never seen anything like that. That was a nutty situation … Honestly, it got us a little fired up. We were ready to go.”

DePalma saved the game with the recovery that he said felt like it happened in slow-motion.

It was just enough for BC to avoid making the wrong kind of history.

“A win’s a win,” DePalma said. “It’s really hard to win games in college football.”