When the Eagles walked into Lane Stadium to face the Hokies, some things were the same (like the cardboard cutouts in the stands) and some were different (like the crowd of 1,000 friends and family members on hand as well), but they were staring down a team that had been affected by COVID like no other in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
By almost every, BC couldn’t be more fortunate. They returned for voluntary workouts in June and after discovering one positive test after the first week, their returns have been spotless. They’ve become a model for how college football can carry on with the proper protocols. Their 3-1 record through the first four games under first-year head coach Jeff Hafley iced the cake.
As college football in a COVID world pressed on into its second month, perhaps no two schools could serve as better examples of how divergent the experience has been than Boston College and Virginia Tech.
The Hokies season opener last month was postponed because of an outbreak at NC State. Their de facto opener against Virginia was postponed as well. When they finally took the field in their makeup game against N.C. State, twenty-three players missed the game for COVID reasons. The next week against Duke, 21 players were held out. Last week, 15 players missed their game against North Carolina.
The severity of the situation hit Hokies redshirt junior quarterback Hendon Hooker hard. After going through medical screenings for COVID before the season, doctors discovered Hooker had a medical condition that needed to be treated before Hooker he could play this season. While Hooker never revealed the details, he was uncertain if he’d ever play again.
He made his first start of the season Saturday, guiding a Hokies team that was depleted but still a threat against an Eagles team that couldn’t stop sabotaging itself.
Virginia Tech handed Boston College a 40-14 reality check at Lane Stadium. Hooker connected on 11 of 15 passes for 111 yards and one touchdown while rushing 18 times for 164 yards. Running back Khalil Herbert piled up 143 rushing yards on 18 carries. They became the first Hokies duo to rush for 100 yards in the same games since Tyrod Taylor and Darren Evans in 2010.
The last time two players rushed for 100 yards on the Eagles was 2017 when Lamar Jackson and Reggie Bonnafon did it for Louisville.
“The story of the game was they ran it ran the ball right through us,” linebacker Max Richardson said. “So if you can’t stop the run, you can’t win, and I think when they got the run game going, the quarterback got a lot of confidence from that. And so his momentum was going all game.”
The Eagles built the 3-1 record they came into the game by playing relatively mistake-free and being opportunistic in the fourth quarter. But three early turnovers all but gift-wrapped the Hokies with a 17-7 halftime lead.
The Eagles were able to get away with the first one — a fumble by running back Pat Garwo at the end of a 14-yard run on their first drive. But the turnovers kept piling up. Phil Jurkovec fumbled a pitch to Garwo on the Eagles second drive and Hokies linebacker Alan Tisdale recovered it. The Hokies drove for a 41-yard field goal that put them ahead 3-0.
The Eagles seemed to pull themselves together when Jurkovec hit Jaelen Gill for a 12-yard touchdown that gave them a 7-3 lead, but it didn’t last.
First, they gifted the Hokies a short field at the BC 49 yard line. It took Hooker 1:59 seconds to get the Hokies into the end zone. On first-and-goal from the 7, Hooker kept it himself on a sweep up the right side for a touchdown that gave Tech a 10-7 lead.
When the Eagles got the ball back, Jurkovec immediately tried to answer. His eyes got big when he saw Zay Flowers streaking down the field on a deep route, but he ignored the three defensive backs in the same area.
His throw was nowhere near Flowers. Instead, Hokies cornerback Devin Taylor hawked it down easily at the 26-yard line for his first interception of the season and the Eagles were left hanging their heads after watching another drive end with them handing Tech the ball.
BC came into the game with three turnovers all season. Their plus-5 turnover margin coming into the game was third in the ACC. Somehow they managed to give the ball away three times on their first four series.
“We turn the ball over three times within the first four possessions, and we’re only down 10 points — and two of them, I believe, were deep in their territory. It’s a huge momentum shift,” Hafley said. “And with us playing more defensive plays against a really good offense, the key to the game was time of possession and moving the ball forward and not giving them the ball. And we failed to do that.”
The Eagles put up 435 yards of total offense fueled largely by Jurkovec (345 passing yards on 28-of 41 passing along with two touchdowns) and it all went to waste.
“We came out swinging and running and throwing,” Hafley said. “Just shot yourself in the foot and sent us backwards. We can’t come back from something like that five turnovers against a good Virginia Tech team.”
The Hokies made them pay again late in the second quarter. After the pick, the Hokies marched 74 yards in seven plays. Hooker threw a 29-yard touchdown to Khalil Herbert that pushed their lead to 17-7.
A third quarter fumble by Travis Levy and another interception by Jurkovec in the fourth upped the Eagles' turnover count to five for the night.
The Eagles hadn’t given away the ball as many times since North Carolina forced six turnovers against them in 2009. The last team to squeeze three fumbles out of them in the same game was Virginia Tech in 2015.
“Win or lose, I stress the process and I stress the importance of getting better every week,” Hafley said. “And I’m sure when we turn on the tape, we’re going to see some things we did really well. But unfortunately in football, if you make big mistakes like we did, you can’t win. So we’ll watch the tape closely and we’ll get better.”
Julian Benbow can be reached at .