A missed field goal in the final minute ruined Northern Illinois' opening game at home on Friday night.
Boston College's punishing defense proved too powerful for the Huskies' offense at Huskie Stadium. Northern Illinois started out strong, but the Boston College Eagles slowly took control of the contest and claimed the 23-20 road victory to start the season.
The injury bug bit the defense all game long, reminiscent of last season. The list of injuries included star cornerback Shawun Lurry, inside linebacker Kyle Pugh, and safety Trequan Smith. Despite the Huskies' impressive tackling and ability to force nine punts, the offense led by Ryan Graham struggled to build on the defense's success.
In the first home game the Northern Illinois Huskies hosted against the Power Five since 2012, Rod Carey's team was unable to take advantage of the blackout in front of the fans. The Huskies, coming off their first losing season since 2007, started the night with flare. The defensive unit consistently attacked Boston College's rushing game (3.0 yards per carry on the day), forcing four punts and an Anthony Brown interception during the Eagles' first six possessions.
The Huskies capitalized on Pugh's interception, converting a 32-yard field goal by senior kicker Christian Hagan to appear on the scoreboard first. Boston College responded with a field goal of its own, and then NIU kickstarted an offensive drive unlike any other we witnessed on Friday night.
The two-play drive began with a 60-yard scamper from Graham, who avoided several Eagle defenders and sprinted down the right sideline into the red zone. He rushed for a career-high 99, but only threw for 190 yards on 15-for-38 passing. On the ensuing play, Carey's offense switched from the typical run and caught Boston College off guard with a passing play-call. Wide receiver D.J. Brown was found wide open in the left corner of the end zone, sliding the Huskies above the Eagles for a seven-point lead (10-3) — their largest of the night. It should be noted that Boston College's talented All-American defensive end Harold Landry sat out on both plays during this possession.
Northern Illinois' run defense remained stellar for quite some time after gaining the lead. Boston College would have to work extremely hard for its next points, requiring a 13-play, 63-yard drive to earn three points to cut the lead to 10-6.
Steve Addazio and the Eagles quickly stopped Northern Illinois before the end of the half, using their three timeouts to limit the Huskies' possession to 18 seconds. Then, Brown unleashed his best drive of the half. He looked calm and collected, completing 5-of-6 passes for 50 yards in a drive that lasted about one minute. Under Addazio, the Eagles are 1-23 when trailing at the half, but thanks to this possession, the Eagles would enter the locker room in DeKalb on top.
The second half began with a brief punting fest, with Boston College winning the field position battle on special teams. The Eagles only traveled 59 yards on their first scoring drive of the half, which ended in seven points. Brown, along with powerful running back Jon Hillman, steadily drove the team down the field to claim a two-possession advantage over the Huskies, 20-10.
This drive eventually woke the Huskies' offense up, and Carey's crew countered with an interesting conversion to the passing game. At one point in the possession, Graham was 5-of-15 on passes, but he finally began looking comfortable in the pocket, completing five passes on this drive and catching one himself. Graham's end zone strike to Shane Wimann brought the Huskies back within three.
After another defensive stop, Graham connected with fifth-year senior Chad Beebe (in his first game back since 2015) for a 46-yard pass to Boston College's 11-yard line. However, the Eagles' defense made a monumental stop, holding NIU to a field goal and nearly collecting a 100-yard pick six in the process. The Huskies tied it at 20 apiece instead of vaulting to a potential 24-20 lead.
NIU's defense once again provided the offense a favor with an impressive stop, including a third down sack, but the offense could not take advantage on a possession starting at the 44-yard line of Boston College. After an inexplicable bomb on third and one, Beebe's jet sweep was stopped in the backfield by the Eagle defense to force a significant turnover. At this point, the Huskies converted on 1-of-11 third downs (finished 2-of-15).
The Huskie defense responded once more with a third-straight three-and-out, but Graham delivered his first interception of the contest on a streak pattern to follow up the defense's small victory.
Both offenses failed to produce almost anything after the two third quarter touchdowns. Boston College was held by the Huskie defense again on its next opportunity but converted on a fourth-and-one sneak by Brown while backed up in its own territory. But the Eagles' best play of their game-winning drive was a pass interference call that launched them into Huskie territory. After another impressive third down stop, Boston College converted on fourth-and-four to enter field goal range with about three and a half minutes remaining. Addazio's squad finished the possession converting a 37-yard field goal through the uprights at the 2:13 mark.
Inaccurate passing ruined Northern Illinois' first two plays on the final drive. Graham elected to run the ball on a quarterback keeper on third down, but threw a perfect completion to Wimann across the center of the field to salvage the game on fourth-and-long. NIU kept driving down the field with quick sideline passes and a pass interference call, setting up a 39-yard field goal with under a minute to go.
Hagan's attempt was tipped and fell short of the uprights, sealing the Boston College victory, 23-20.