Doug Flutie lost at his own game today. College football turned into a magic show, a game of grand illusions, at delirious Mountaineer Field. But the magician everyone came to see missed his cue. He got stuck. And he couldn't escape.
Flutie had the opportunity to lead his Boston College team to the winning touchdown to keep its perfect record intact. He couldn't. Consequently, the fourth-ranked Eagles were upset by 20th-ranked West Virginia, 21-20, in front of 60,286 goal-post-demolishing homecoming fans, the third-largest crowd in West Virginia history.
It was the third consecutive year Boston College came into the West Virginia game undefeated, only to lose it. The Eagles are 4-1; West Virginia is 6-1.
This was no ordinary football game. Its first touchdown came two plays after the ball was whistled dead when a player who didn't have the ball was tackled. Early in the fourth quarter, the Eagles went straight from first down to third, the second down probably heading into The Twilight Zone. And the winning touchdown was scored on "an illusion," according to the man who scored it, tailback John Gay.
Gay's five-yard run with 4:52 remaining ended an 80-yard, 10-play drive that eventually won the game. It was a play, Gay said, that calls for the fullback to go inside on a fake, creating the "illusion" as Gay sneaks outside. It worked.
But quarterback Flutie still had nearly five minutes to score, something that comes naturally to what was the nation's second-best scoring machine.
"I looked at 4:46 on the clock and I said, 'Fellas, we've got a handful,' " said West Virginia linebacker Fred Smalls, who sacked Flutie twice in the fourth quarter. "I did not feel we could stop Doug Flutie, although I did feel we could stop Boston College."
The Eagles began their final possession at their 33, but could advance no farther than the West Virginia 38 before the Mountaineers took over and ran out the clock.
Flutie, who completed 21 of 42 passes for 299 yards, pulled out one crucial fourth-and-four play during the drive with a "jump shot" 11-yard pass. But he was sacked by Smalls on the following play, and that was that.
"When I sacked him, he hit me on the butt and said, 'Good job, Smalls.' I never knew I'd sack the guy. It's the greatest thing that ever happened to me. When I get old some day, I can tell my grandchildren, 'I sacked Doug Flutie.' "
Flutie, who is 5 feet 9 and as tough to catch as Fran Tarkenton was, has been sacked eight times all season, three times today.
"We had a chance (to win), but we didn't do it," Flutie said, dejectedly slamming his locker shut. "Tonight, I'll run every play through my head at least four or five times."
The officials may do the same thing. This game may have been the testing ground for several new "You Make the Call" TV commercial plays. Said Flutie: "Every time there was a big play, they (the officials) would throw something. They controlled the ball game. They controlled the tempo of the game. Neither team could get any rhythm." The penalty roll call: BC, 12 for 97 yards; West Virginia, seven for 78.
The first half was a battle of dueling field goals -- two by West Virginia's Paul Woodside, two by BC's Kevin Snow -- until a fourth-and-one play with four minutes left.
The Eagles drove to the West Virginia 34, where they faced the fourth-down call. Flutie took the snap and appeared to hand the ball to fullback Steve Strachan, who dove over the line.
The officials whistled the play dead. Yet there was a problem. Strachan didn't have the ball. Flutie bootleged around the left side for a gain of five yards.
Which gain counted? The officials met and decided that when the whistle blew, the ball had gone two yards and the rules say the play stops when the whistle is blown. Yet Flutie, casually carrying out the fake of his life, had not crossed the line of scrimmage when the whistle blew. First down by compromise.
Moments later, Strachan really did get the ball, and went 24 yards for the first touchdown of the game, putting the Eagles ahead, 13-6.
On their next possession, the Eagles faced a second and 15 at the Mountaineer 42. Such situations were made for Flutie. He was forced to scramble, and, while rolling to his right, motioned with his hand for flanker Kelvin Martin to run toward the end zone. Flutie threw over cornerback Mike Scott and into Martin's hands for the touchdown.
In the third quarter, Woodside's 23-yard field goal cut the lead to 20-9.
Then, West Virginia quarterback Kevin White (17 of 30 for 227 yards) threw 52 yards to Willie Drewrey to the four-yard line, where it took four tries for the Mountaineers to score their first touchdown, Ron Wolfley's one-yard twist over the line. White's pass for the two-point conversion was batted away, and Boston College still led, 20-15.
The Missing Down occured in BC's next series. The Eagles lost 18 yards on a first-down sack, and then, mysteriously, it was third down and 28. No one noticed until the officials told BC it was time to punt following Play No. 2, a Flutie incompletion.
BC Coach Jack Bicknell asked to speak to the referee about this. "He came over and told me the first play was a run, the second play was a sack, the third play . . . "
Bicknell continued: "He convinced me that I was crazy."
It was that kind of game.