LATE-BREAKING OOHS

Boston College quarterback Ryan leads frantic charge to win over Hokies

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BC's Matt Ryan is sacked by Virginia Tech's Chris Ellis when it was looking like a long night for Heisman hopeful.

BLACKSBURG, Va. - This is how Heisman Trophies get won.

This is how quarterbacks without mega cannons on their shoulders or wings on their feet make millions in the NFL.

This is how national championships get won.

Boston College quarterback Matt Ryan shook off 55 minutes of futility last night and led two touchdown drives against a suddenly passive and possibly flagging Virginia Tech defense.

After Ryan led a 92-yard drive against a prevent scheme, BC regained the ball on an onside kick at its 34 with 2 minutes, 7 seconds to play.

What followed was the biggest 1 minute and 56 seconds of Ryan's athletic life.

Ryan, the pride of Penn Charter and an Exton, Pa., native, recalled the heroics if not the athleticism of Doug Flutie, circa 1984, on two breathtaking scrambles that saved the final drive.

The first netted 12 yards. The second gained 24 and six points, a left-side scramble, plant and fire to running back Andre Callender, alone in the right side of the end zone with 11 seconds to play.

Boston College, scoreless and overmatched for most of the night, had come back and gone ahead, 14-10, with 11 seconds left, and won. The Eagles stayed undefeated at 8-0, secured the No. 2 ranking for another week, bounced to the top of the Atlantic Coast Conference alone, ahead of Virginia Tech.

Two inspired drives and, poof, 55 minutes and 44 seconds of disaster on a soaked, chilly night in the southwestern Virginia mountains was forgotten, forgiven, overcome.

So, too, was Ryan: He was heaving on the field, a la Donovan McNabb.

"I was excited. I didn't feel that good," Ryan said.

That was a fleeting feeling. If BC has a Mount Rushmore, Ryan joined Flutie on it.

"I don't think so," said Ryan, a walking aw-shucks machine. "Maybe, 20 years from now, I'll look back and say, 'That was great.' "

At 6-5 and 220 pounds, Ryan is little Flutie's antithesis: a big guy who will make his money in the pocket - kind of like that other Boston QB. After all, his teammates were saying his play in the final few minutes recalled some guy named Tom Brady.

"Bradyesque?" said Ryan, a senior, his eyes arching. "I don't know if it was Brady-esque."

Certainly, his confidence was Bradyesque; Montanian; Flutie-like.

Ryan had been pounded and baffled by a defense that propelled Tech to the No. 8 ranking in the country, and he figured the Eagles were in an OK spot.

"The whole time. Hey, 10 is not a crazy lead," said Ryan, eye-black still under his eyes, his sandy hair still sweaty. It was 30 minutes after he cemented his legend and, perhaps, his fortune, and he was reveling in the moment. His moment. And he deferred.

"The defense kept us in this the whole game," he said.

"The offensive line did a good job at the end," he said - aching, surely, after that same line's inefficiency cost him three sacks and about two dozen other hits.

"I don't think I played very well for the most part of the game," he said. "That's kind of frustrating."

He's right.

There are holes in Ryan's game: a lack of mobility, a tendency to force a pass here and there, locking on one receiver, holding onto the ball too long.

And, really, the Boston College team he quarterbacks made it to No. 2 by default. BC had played one ranked team - No. 15 Georgia Tech, now unranked and invisible 6 weeks later.

They've beaten somebody now. They did it alarmingly.

Entering the final two drives, when he was 9-for-15 for 172 yards, Ryan was 16-for-37 for 113 yards with two interceptions, and some of the sacks were on him.

But, hey, Ryan isn't supposed to be perfect; just real good. Smart. Savvy.

After all, he rebounded from an interception on the season's first play, against Wake Forest, to log the first of his two 400-yard games this season. After torching Georgia Tech for 435 yards, he was supposed to be pro-ready.

For most of last night Ryan was not nearly as good. And it could have been worse. Hokies defenders dropped four other passes that could have been interceptions.

The conditions could hardly have been more challenging; the spotlight, hardly more withering.

The nation and the Heisman and poll voters watched on ESPN's featured Thursday night game against the Hokies, now 6-2. At least nine NFL scouts attended Ryan's coming-out party at packed and daunting Lane Stadium.

Everybody got an eyeful, early and late.

Early, Ryan threw softly and sloppily. By halftime he could have had three interceptions. His decision-making . . . well, it wasn't good; throwing into crowds, across his body, off-balance.

Yes, it was cold; around 50 all night, with driving rain early.

Yes, it was hostile; 66,233 rowdy fans in one of the biggest games ever played there.

But Heisman candidates, projected first-round picks, make their bones in such environs. Besides, Ryan is a Philly kid who plays in Boston, for goodness sake, not some Hawaii WAC passer with bleached hair.

Nevertheless, Ryan's struggles secured for BC its first scoreless first half in 53 games.

Things began more promisingly in the second half; Ryan to Kevin Challenger for 32 yards on the second play - but the first interception finally came, on the next play, Brandon Flowers' sideline snare, Ryan's seventh of the season.

Later, an interception at the BC 31 with 6:01 to play.

Then, the heroics.

A gorgeous, 16-yard featherball to Rich Gunnell over Victor "Macho" Harris on the left sideline finished the 92-yard drive that would have meant little if not for the recovered kick, which bounced off Tech's Josh Morgan and was recovered by BC.

It bears noting that the Eagles, trailing, 10-7, faced third-and-20 on the final, winning play, a hole dug deeper due to a questionable holding penalty on second down that called back a touchdown completion.

The way the last 4:16 went last night, anything but third-and-20 would have been underwhelming. Third-and-10 isn't nearly as dramatic, with all those voters and prospective employers looking on.

Eh, Matty?

"I don't really know," he said.

Yes, he does. *