DURHAM, N.C. — It had been so long since Boston College quarterback Phil Jurkovec touched the field that even the hits felt good.
Just before halftime of Boston College’s 26-6 win Saturday over Duke, Blue Devils defensive lineman Victor Dimukeje stung Jurkovec for one of his 3½ sacks on the day.
Jurkovec ate some grass and came up grinning.
“For me, I haven’t been out there playing real football in so long, so just getting out there taking hits and playing again was so fun,” he said.
For that very reason, Eagles first-year head coach Jeff Hafley was confident enough to hand Jurkovec the reins to the offense as the opening day starter. He told him to “run the next guy over.”
After a drawn-out process of gaining eligibility from the NCAA, the Notre Dame transfer made a mark in his debut, throwing for 300 yards and two touchdowns on 17-of-23 passing.
There were nerves initially and Jurkovec said he was skittish in the pocket in the first half, but he eventually settled in.
“The kid hadn’t started a game since his state championship in high school,” Hafley said. “We knew what it would be, he would have some nerves, he’d be anxious. It’s a position where the experience gets you better. But I had no doubt. I told him at halftime, ‘Just go play. You’re doing a great job.
“He threw a pick in the first half, I said, ‘Hey, no problem. Go play.’ And look what he did in the second half. He hung in and he made some plays and he made some throws and I think he showed all of us the potential that he has.”
Jurkovec’s two touchdowns, both in the third quarter, were gems. He scrambled to find tight end Hunter Long in the back of the end zone for a 9-yard TD, then aired one out for wideout Zay Flowers wide open over the middle for a 61-yard score.
“Phil’s awesome,” Long said. “He’s been awesome through camp. We’ve had a great connection. I love playing with him. I knew that he was capable and he showed that in the second half — a lot.”
The trait that stood out for Flowers, though, was Jurkovec’s poise. When the Eagles offense was spinning its wheels up 7-6 in the first half, Jurkovec held the group together.
“His leadership, he showed it big today,” Flowers said. “He came out and pushed us. He was just talking to us like, ‘It’s going to be all right. We’re just going to get ya’ll the ball.’ And that’s what we did.”
Helping Flowers blossom
From the time he arrived at the Heights last season, Flowers’s playmaking ability made him intriguing. He caught 22 passes for 341 yards and three touchdowns in 2019, but hardly tapped into his full potential.
When Hafley arrived with offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti, Flowers said he knew the possibilities for what he could do in their offense were boundless.
“I knew it from first day,” Flowers said. “When they brought them in I already knew how it was going to be because they held us to a high standard.”
Flowers broke loose for five catches and 162 yards Saturday. No player in BC history has had more receiving yards on fewer catches.
“To be a part of this offense, I get to show what I can do now,” Flowers said. “Instead of just taking handoffs the whole year, I get to actually run routes now. Show everybody I can run routes and I’m just not a jet sweep guy.”
Putting it all on the line
The Eagles' one sure strength coming into the season was their continuity along the offensive line with four of five all-ACC picks returning. Hafley had to make a change before the game, however, starting freshman Christian Mahogany at left guard.
“We had some guys who were a little bit banged up in camp so we were moving them around,” Hafley said. “Ultimately it came down to the five guys that we thought gave us the best chance to win and we put them in the best positions we felt we could to succeed.”
After giving up just 13 sacks in 13 games last season, BC allowed six in their first game of the season.
“I thought the Duke defense did a really good job of showing us a bunch of different pressures and a different bunch of looks that I know we’ll fix,” Hafley said.
White leads ‘unavailable’ list
Rather than issuing a standard injury report before game day, the Eagles provided an “unavailable to play” list. The most noticeable name listed was graduate receiver Kobay White, BC’s leading receiver from a year ago.
White caught 29 passes for 460 yards and five touchdowns in 2019.
“We found out earlier this week that there was a chance Kobay might not be able to play,” Hafley said. "We had him in for a second opinion and we’re waiting on a few more things.”
Also unavailable were freshman receiver Justin Bellido, graduate tight end Danny Dalton, redshirt sophomore defensive back Tyler Days, redshirt sophomore linebacker Vinny DePalma, redshirt freshman defensive back Connor Grieco, redshirt freshman defensive tackle Izaiah Henderson, freshman defensive back Jio Holmes, freshman tight end Hans Lillis, redshirt sophomore tight end Joey Luchetti, and redshirt sophomore long snapper Tito Pasqualoni.
Victory worth the wait
BC hadn’t started a season so late in the year since 1981, when it beat Texas A&M in a Sept. 19 opener. That win marked the head coaching debut of Jack Bicknell, who guided the Eagles to 59 wins and four bowl games in 10 seasons … The Eagles have won seven of their past eight season openers and 14 of their past 17. They’re 3-2 in openers against ACC opponents since joining the conference in 2005 … The Eagles have won seven straight openers in true road games dating back to 2002.
Julian Benbow can be reached at email@example.com.