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Boston Herald
Boston Herald
2 Sep 2023
Rich Thompson

NextImg:BC falls to Northern Illinois in overtime in season opener

Boston College erased a 14-point, fourth-quarter deficit only to succumb to Northern Illinois, 27-24, in overtime in the season opener before 30,122 on Saturday at Alumni Stadium.

The Eagles play the second of three straight home games when they host regional rival Holy Cross on Sept. 9. BC begins ACC play against No. 8 Florida State on Sept. 16.

BC floundered on both sides of the ball in overtime. BC got the opening possession, failed to gain a first down and settled for a 39-yard field goal by Liam Connor. The Huskies ripped through the BC defense on their possession and secured the victory with a 1-yard keeper by quarterback Rocky Lombardi.

“We have specifically done overtime periods in camp and we’ve played in overtime games here,” said BC middle linebacker Vinny DePalma. “Guys knew what we were in for and guys were ready to play overtime.”

The game took an unexpected twist at 3:04 of the first when BC coach Jeff Hafley benched starting quarterback Emmett Morehead and inserted sophomore transfer Thomas Castellanos. Morehead looked tentative in the Eagles first two possessions while going 3-of-6 for 14 yards.

Castellanos would play most of the remainder of the game and completed 13 passes for 138 yards and two touchdowns. He also rushed for 67 yards on nine carries and a touchdown.

“Thomas deserved to play,” said Hafley. “Thomas has a really good training camp and Emmett did, too. But we felt Thomas deserved to play and it wasn’t indicative of how Emmett played.”

BC staged a comeback midway through the fourth fueled by Castellanos’ dual threat athleticism and suddenly accurate arm. BC crested the red zone and caught a break when NIU cornerback JaVaughn Bond was flagged for pass interference in the end zone. Castellanos cut the lead to 21-14 with a 2-yard sweep with 5:59 to play.

The Eagles got the ball back on their own 17 with 3:23 to play. Castellanos went about tying the game 21-21 on a six-play, 83-yard scoring drive. Castellanos extended the drive with a 22-yard connection to Ryan O’Keefe followed by a 30-yard touchdown toss to Jaden Williams with 1:44 remaining.

“I think when plays break down, that gets scary for the defense because I feel I can scramble around and make plays for the offense,” said Castellanos.

Lombardi gained a measure of offensive traction on NIU’s fourth possession and drove the Huskies to the BC 7. NIU coach Thomas Hammock lifted Lombardi and sent in running back Justin Lynch to take a direct snap. Lynch rolled right and threw a touchdown pass to tailback Antario Brown, giving NIU a 7-0 lead with 2:44 to play in the second.

The origin of that play can be traced back to Philadelphia. Before transferring to NIU, Lynch played in 11 games as a quarterback for Temple in 2021, where he completed 88-of-154 passes for 839 yards and four touchdowns.

“We had played against him at Temple so that play did not surprise us,” said Hafley.

Northern Illinois won the pre-game coin flip with a call of heads and elected to defer to the second half. That turned out to be a wise decision with game-altering consequences. The Huskies opened the third quarter with a 10-play, 75-yard, scoring drive that took 4:27 to complete. Brown scored on a 2-yard run for his second TD of the game and a 14-0 lead with 10:33 to play.

BC caught its biggest break of the game when Lombardi inexplicably let the ball slip from his grasp while running away from pressure. BC gradate defensive tackle Kris Banks pounced on the ball and give the Eagles a first-and-10 from NIU 25. BC cut the lead to 14-7 on an 11-yard pass from Castellanos to Lewis Bond with 4:48 to play in the third.

Turnover turnarounds are fair play in college football. Castellanos under threw a wide-open Jaden Williams and the ball was picked off by Bond on the NIU 45. The Huskies the went 55 yards on 12 plays that consumed 7:04. The drive was extended by an egregious pass interference call against BC cornerback Elijah Jones on a fourth and six. Fullback Brock Lampe punched it in from the one to make it 21-7 with 5:59 to play.

“That was a bad ball by me, I have to throw a better ball there,” said Castellanos. “I was trying to be aggressive and make a play down the field and get the momentum going but that has got to be a better ball.”

Boston College quarterback Thomas Castellanos scores against Northern Illinois safety Nate Valcarcel during the second half of Saturday's season opener. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

Boston College quarterback Thomas Castellanos scores against Northern Illinois safety Nate Valcarcel during the second half of Saturday’s season opener. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)