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Boston College vs. Pittsburgh Football: On 4th and 1, Halloran to Martin Beats Pitt (1985)

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Bicknell's gutsy call gives Eagles 29-22 win at Pitt

Shawn Halloran
Shawn Halloran
CoachJF archives

The year was 1985, BC was regrouping after the legendary Cotton Bowl season and a top 5 national finish.  Shawn Halloran, another local kid out of lightly regarded Oakmont Regional High School, was now the QB, replacing Heisman Trophy winner Doug Flutie.

Halloran, was a classic drop back passer, with a cannon for an arm and an almost shot put release.  He would explode in his senior year of 1986, leading the Eagles to a last second win over Georgia in the Hall of Fame Bowl, but early in the 1985 season, he was still trying to find his footing.  By game three, there were a lot of people calling for a change behind center, but Coach Jack Bicknell held his ground, sticking with Halloran.

BC had started the season 1-2, losing to defending National Champion, #10 Brigham Young in the Kickoff Classic in the New Jersey Meadowlands followed up by a win over Temple and then a trip to Foxboro where they dropped a 31-13 decision to the #17 Maryland Terrapins.

The Eagles traveled to Pittsburgh next to meet Foge Fazio's Pitt Panthers who entered 1-1, having split close games with the Big Ten's Purdue Boilermakers (31-30 W) and Ohio State (10-7 L).

This game was considered critical for BC in their bowl eligibility pursuit.  The Eagles still had Miami, Penn State, West Virginia, Syracuse and a strong (yes..that is not a misprint) Army team still to play.

BC came out fired up, rolling to a 14-3 halftime lead, with Halloran dissecting the Panther defense through the air and running back Jim Bell (14 carries, 95 yards) controlling the ground and most importantly, keeping what had been a suspect BC defense, off the field.

Halloran struck early in the second quarter, hitting WR Kelvin Martin for an 18 yard TD to put the Eagles up 7-3.  On the very next series, it was Halloran to Martin again, setting up a Bell 8 yard TD run.

Pitt looked to turn the tide in the 2nd half, but Panther QB John Congemi was picked by Eagle safety Karl Kreshpane at the Maroon and Gold 10.  Boston College turned that mistake into points, driving 90 yards in 6 plays, with Bell scoring from three yards out to make it 21-3.

With their backs against the wall, the Panthers responded behind backup freshman tailback Brian Davis.  Subbing for the injured Charles Gladman, Davis found daylight for a 26 yard run to make it 21-10 and then after a Jim Bell fumble, lead Pitt 66 yards to bring it to 21-16 as the try for two failed.

The BC offense had gone stale, stifled by the Pitt defense and Congemi looked to have authored the comeback when he teamed with Chuck Scales for a TD pass to give the Panthers a 22-21 lead late in the 4th quarter.

With time left for just one drive, BC moved to their own 49 where they stalled, finally facing 4th and 1 with 1:21 to go.  Bicknell called time and sent in a run play. Pitt called time out and changed the course of the game as well as Bicknell's mind.

The Boston Globe's Michael Madden got this from Bicknell in his post game press conference.

"I'm thinking, why not go down with all guns blazing?  If you're going to go down, go down in flames", said Bicknell.  "But I'm not sure of this and I needed someone to back me up and so I asked Barry (assistant coach Barry Gallup) about the z-slant and Barry said, "I can live with it".  Shawn Halloran gulped as his eyes bulged.

20 Jump Z-slant was a quick slant to the Z receiver, BC's best offensive player, Kelvin Martin.  Martin, like any player would do, told the coaching staff he would get open, so Bicknell went with his gut.

Faking a power run to Ken Bell, drew in the Pitt defense, Martin did his job and Halloran held the ball just a tad longer allowing Martin (7 catches, 172 yards) to come clear and then delivered a strike with KMart hauling it in and racing the final 31 yards for the winning score. Halloran would finish by converting the two point conversion to make it 29-22 and BC had a win.

Halloran would finish the game completing 22 of 35 passes for 400 yards, and the two touchdowns with no interceptions, including 19 of 21 for 276 yards in the second half  and a confidence that was sorely lacking prior to the game.

The Eagles would struggle the remainder of that season, ending with a 4-8 mark, but Halloran would redeem himself in 1986, leading BC to 9-3 record and a bowl win over Georgia, once again teaming with Martin on the game winner with just 32 seconds remaining.

I'd gladly take another finish like either of those come tonight.

Go Eagles!!