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‘Home From The Heights’

Walking down Beacon Street heading towards Alumni Stadium, I was filled with excitement, anticipation, and wonder! Excited to see what a healthy line on both sides of the ball could produce for the Eagles. Anticipating kickoff after an opening WEEK 0 of College Football, wondering is this the season the BC Eagles get back to a bowl game and 7+ win season? As I entered Alumni Stadium the student section was packed and rowdy! Everyone was hoping for a positive start to the ‘23 season vs. the Huskies of NIU.

The Eagles came out the tunnel w/ fire and hype! I wasn’t sure who had more gas to them, HC Jeff Hafley as he was dapping up people and players or starting OG Christian Mahogany, who missed all of ‘22 w/ an ACL injury. Mahogany looked like a bull ready to attack his opponent!

The Eagles won the coin toss and elected to start the 2023 season with the ball. BC’s 1st drive had QB Emmett Moorehead at the helm for the offense. RB Pat Garwo, who had an off season last year (422 yds) after a 1,000 yard performance in ‘21 came out the gate strong with runs of 7 & 3 yds consecutively behind OG Mahogany. Unfortunately the drive would stall and end up in a punt.

The BC Defense held the NIU Huskies to just 5 plays on the following drive forcing a punt. The teams would exchange punts over the next 5 series, which saw a nice PBU by BC’s Victor Nelson to end the Huskies 3rd drive.

On the ensuing drive HC Jeff Hafley made an early game changing decision to change QB from Emmett Moorehead to UCF transfer Thomas Castellanos, who is more of a dual threat QB. Castellanos was an instant bright spot for the offense as he ripped off a 29 yard run to the right side of the field. Castellanos flashed his legs again on the drive for gains of 2 & 7 yds as well as completions to Xavier Coleman and Lewis Bond before inevitably having to punt again.

Both teams would exchange punts as S/T was a key player in this game early before NIU drew 1st blood with a 7 yd TD from Justin Lynch to RB Antario Brown. Lynch took the direct snap as Lombardi motioned out wide spreading the BC defenders and allowing the Huskies to get an easy 6! The drive was kept alive when BC blitzed 8 and Lomardi hit TE Chris Carter down the middle over SS John Pupel. Pupel would make the TD saving tackle for the moment.

BC would try to quickly put points on the board to close out the 1st half as RB Alex Broome took a pass from Castellanos 20 yds up the right side of the field to the NIU 36. Castellanos then threw back to back incompletions before hitting Ryan O’Keefe for a 2 yd loss, an ugly screen attempt.

HC Hafley would have to fire up the troops at halftime for them to turn the momentum for the Eagles favor. Emmett came out the tunnel in the 2nd half fired up and it seemed like he would be the starting QB in the 2nd half for the Eagles!

The Huskies received the opening 2nd half possession and drove 75 yds on 9 plays for another Antario Brown TD. This time it was a 2 yd run to the right side with the Huskies lined up in a 3 TE set. This was deflating for the Eagles as they allowed only 31 yds rushing in the 1st half including a 3 yd TFL from DE Donovan Ezeiruaku and another from Neto Okpala. The Eagles defense looked flat to start the 2nd half

Moorehead did start the 2nd half at QB for BC as it seemed HC Hafley was looking for stability in the passing game. Castellanos let a few balls sail in the 1st half including one to TE George Takacs that would have kept a drive alive. The Eagles 1st possession ended in 6 plays for 23 yds after Pat Garwo got them started with a nice 12 yd run.

The Eagles were in search of some type of spark, something to breathe life into their lungs! Neto Okpala burst through the LOS and applied pressure to Lombardi forcing him to move in the pocket. Lombardi would attempt to roll to the left and fumble the ball; it was quickly recovered by DT Khris Banks.

The Eagles were ready to soar following the turnover with possession on NIU’s 25 yd line and Castellanos was there to lead them! Castellanos would find WR Lewis Bond in front of the goal post for 6! Castellanos started the drive with a crisp pass to WR Ryan O’Keefe for 6 yd and back to back runs from RB Alex Broome for gains of 3 & 4 yds.

After a quick 6 play drive by the Huskies that ended with great pass coverage by Jalen Cheeks on NIU’s WR Kacper Ratkiewiez. Castellanos was picked off the very 1st play by NIU’s Ja’Vaugh Byrd in tight zone coverage. Byrd made a nice athletic play on the ball and controlled it while falling down backwards.

BC’s safety John Pupel tried to disrupt the Huskies next drive knifing into the backfield on 2nd and 1 for a TFL on RB Antario Brown. But NIU would eventually pick up the 1st and another score. After a PI call on BC’s Elijah Jones and back to back runs from FB Brock Lampre & Gavin Williams for 7 & 8 yds before Lampre punched it in for 6!

BC was once again in need of a momentum swing and they got one from Castellanos as he channeled his inner Mike Vick. NIU’s defenders CJ Brown and LB Jaden Dolphin blitzed up the middle and forced Castellanos out of the pocket and back 25 yds before he made a juke move and created separation and got up field. Castellanos never lost vision of his receivers and was able to hit WR Lewis Bond for 11 yd gain and into NIU territory.

Castellanos athleticism was on full display on that play. Another completion to Bond was sandwiched between 2 NIU defensive penalties putting BC on the Huskies 2 yard line. After an exchange of penalties by each team, Castellanos took the pigskin 2 yards to the right for another BC score, cutting the lead to 7!

The Eagles, needing another big stop, found LB Jaylen Blackwell, who had been applying pressure all game, made a huge TFL on WR Trayvon Rudolph. Unfortunately a pass interference penalty on Cheeks gave NIU a fresh set of downs. BC’s DEF would hanker down and force a punt but not before burning their TOs.

Castellanos would again flash his athleticism with a 16 yd run up the middle for a 1st down. He would then hit RB Pat Garwo for 5 yds and O’Keefe for a nice 22 yd pickup. The legs of Castellanos would again keep BC alive on 3rd down with a 10 yd run. He would proceed to throw a beautiful ball out in front of Jayden Williams for a game tying TD!!! Alumni stadium was rocking w/ the faithful that still believed!

Both teams exchanged punts to close out regulation and the Eagles would start 2023 in OT. BC got the first drive which consisted of 4 plays for 25 yds ultimately ending in a 39 yd FG from Liam Conner.

NIU took their OT possession and Lombardi hit Lampre again for a huge 16 yd pickup down to the BC 9 yd line. The Eagles DEF was on their heels and reeling when Gavin Williams bulldozered through the line for 8 yds to the BC 1 yd line. Lombardi would then seal the W for the Huskies with a 1yd run up the middle.

Although the Eagles have started out the season 0-1, there were plenty of positives to take away from the home loss. Castellanos looked poised under pressure while under attack most of the game. He developed a nice connection with Lewis Bond in the 2nd half. Hafley’s decision to switch QBs ultimately worked out and put the Eagles in a position to get a W. The DE for the Eagles applied pressure and recorded multiple TFL. Shitta Sillah, Ezeiruaku, and Okpala all looked good.

The secondary made some costly penalties but also made some key pass defenses down the stretch to keep the Eagles in the game. Elijah Jones, Jalen Cheeks, and Victor Nelson all registered PBUs. Vinny DePalma led the way with 12 tackles in the LB room but Soph Jaylen Blackwell was the standout for me. Blackwell was shooting gaps and in the backfield many times registering 5 tackles and a TFL.

BC will take on Holy Cross on the 9th at Alumni Stadium and I expect Castellanos to start the game at QB and the offense to have a more solid identity Week 2. I would love to see the continued physical run game w/ Broome, Garwo, and Castellanos. I think the play action will see some success next week and the Holy Cross defense will have to stay honest to try and deal with Castellanos’s athleticism. In closing for those calling for Hafley’s job…shut it down!!!! Let’s Go EAGLES!!!



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