I know, you all expected me to relive one of the USC games right? Well, as the signs in visitor corner of Alumni Stadium said on the night of September 1, 1988 when the Trojans last visited BC, "For Peete Sake"..why would we want to look back at a loss?
That night wasn't so great. BC was thoroughly hammered by the Trojans, 34-7. The game was the opening game of the college football season on a beautiful Thursday night, marred by a massive traffic jam. If the game only went so well. The Eagles were pretty much run off the field that night by Rodney Peete and his band of merry Trojans, so much so that people left Alumni humming "Fight On" as it got played so often.
Some nine years later and a lot had happened. The program had dipped in the later years under Jack Bicknell, making some wonder whether Bicknell had anything to do with the success of the program in the early 80s or was it simply all Flutie Magic? Tom Coughlin had come after that (we lived part of that story last week) followed by the forgettable Dan Henning error.
BC then turned to a career assistant, an offensive line coach with virtually no ties to the Northeast, named Tom O'Brien. O'Brien, an Ohio native and 1971 graduate of the Naval Academy, had spent his career tied to his college coach, George Welsh, first at Navy and then onto Virginia. He spent 15 seasons in Charlottesville and would eventually become Welsh's offensive coordinator during what many would claim were the glory years of UVA football. During the 1990 season the Cavs would rise to #1 in the country for four weeks, eventually finishing 10-3.
As many football hires at BC have been, O'Brien was an underwhelming choice to most fans and when the man with the dour personality, Marine stare and ultra conservative playbook lost his first game at TEMPLE..in front of a whopping 5,085 fans (the smallest crowd listed for any BC game since a Fenway Park loss to Xavier in 1954), fans were already on edge.
The Eagles returned home the next week and hosted Big East rival West Virginia. The Mountaineers entered the game at 2-0, having knocked off Marshall and then East Carolina, behind legendary mentor, Don Nehlen, who had inflicted much more than his share of pain on BC in the past. It was Nehlen's teams who provided BC with one of their two losses in the Cotton Bowl season as well as the devastating loss in Tom Coughlin's last regular season game as head coach denying BC a trip to the Sugar Bowl and Big East title.
On this day, things didn't start off much better. The crowd of 39,200 at Alumni saw another horrid performance in the first half, with West Virginia taking a 17-3 to the half and holding that lead midway through the third quarter, behind the play of sophomore running back, the nation's number two rusher at that time, Famous Amos Zereoue and future St Louis Rams QB Marc Bulger. They also got some help from BC QB Matt Hasselbeck, who threw two interceptions to defensive linemen in the first half.
O'Brien had challenged his team to be more physical after the Temple debacle and the Eagles finally took him up on it. This time, it came from a somewhat unlikely, at the time at least, source, junior RB Mike Cloud. The Portsmouth, RI native ran 23 times for 209 yards in 11 minutes and 12 seconds of the second half, becoming the first Eagle since Chuckie Dukes in 1991 to go over the 200 mark.
Cloud, subbing for Omari Walker, who had injured his knee in the first half, had TD runs of 11 and 66 yards in the fourth quarter, after Hasselbeck had tied the score by finding Derrick Crittenden and Anthony DiCosmo for TD tosses as BC struck for TDs on four consecutive drives.
Cloud spoke about his increased role:
"When Omari went down, I just wanted to go in and get the opportunity to try and step it up. I just saw the defense overpursue on a lot of outside zone plays and I made a few cutbacks. The o-line just did a good job of blocking and kept their men outside"
Cloud's final TD run capped a 28 point BC run and gave the Eagles a 31-17 lead with 6:00 remaining and then held on as Markell Blount intercepted Bulger on 4th and 23 to seal the 31-24 win.
The victory was so, so sweet for Boston College, who had not beaten WVU at home since 1976.
Hasselbeck commented in the Boston Globe:
"It feels great to win again, especially at home and especially for a team I've never beaten at BC. I'm sure there are guys I've played with who are gone now that feel good too. But it's just great to get that winning feeling back at BC".
O'Brien's first season didn't have many more highlights. They would beat Rutgers the next week, only to lose five straight and ultimately wind up 4-7. It took another two years before the Eagles would turn the corner and reach the first of their twelve consecutive bowl games. O'Brien would go on to win more games than any coach in BC history before oddly taking the NC State job in 2008. He is currently back at the University of Virginia as an assistant.
Cloud of course, would go on to become the all time leading rusher in Boston College history with 3,597 yards and would be named first team All America in the 1998 season. His 1,726 yards that year, were also the best single season in Eagle history until it was eclipsed by Andre Williams last season.
The 14 point halftime deficit is still the largest margin overcome at the half in a BC win and the second largest comeback in program history period.
I'd take a big rally tomorrow night!