Mark Herzlich just wanted to pick up where he left off. Playing his first game since he was termed “cancer free” late last season, Herzlich led Boston College onto the field in its 38-20 win over Weber State in the schools’ season openers on Saturday afternoon.
Herzlich, a linebacker and the 2008 Atlantic Coast Conference defensive player of the year, missed the 2009 season as he underwent treatment for Ewing’s Sarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer. After a 10-year old boy, also an Ewing’s Sarcoma survivor, brought the day to an emotional start by singing the national anthem, Herzlich was first out of the tunnel, sprinting about 10 yards ahead of his teammates before he took off his helmet in the front of the student section, jumping up and down with his arms spread wide as the crowd roared.
“It was excitement. I thought I might be nervous,” he said of his charge into Alumni Stadium. “I do that always. That’s what I do. I wasn’t going to change it today. I’m no different than them. I go to classes with them.” Dave Shinskie rebounded from an interception on the first play of the season by throwing touchdowns on consecutive first-quarter drives for Boston College. He finished 10 of 20 for 185 yards with two TDs and two interceptions.
“It was emotional because Mark led us out onto the field,” Shinskie said. “That was amazing.” Boston College led 31-10 at halftime in the teams’ first-ever meeting. It’s the furthest east and north that Weber State has ever played.
Montel Harris carried 19 times for 115 yards and DeLeon Gause returned an interception 66 yards for a score for the Eagles. But many of the fans were there to see Herzlich’s return on a bright and sun-drenched day. He was involved in a pair of tackles late in the opening quarter, and the crowd – many aware before his name was announced – cheered. A coupe of fans in the stands behind the BC bench could be heard offering cell-phone updates of his success early in the game.
“I couldn’t run onto the field and start crying,” he joked. “That wouldn’t be good. Weber State would have said, `Let’s go at him.”‘ Herzlich, who missed part of summer camp with a stress fracture of his right foot, played a part-time role in the game, getting five tackles as he worked his way back into shape.
“I’m not sure how effective he was from his old self,” BC coach Frank Spaziani said. “Hopefully we’ll be able to build on it.” Fans entering the stadium’s north entrance could see the linebacker’s No. 94 jersey prominently displayed in a souvenir tent.
The season didn’t start well for BC’s offense. After getting whistled for a delay of game before the first play from scrimmage, Shinskie followed by throwing an interception to Wildcats’ linebacker Taylor Sedillo at the Eagles’ 20. Herzlich took the field for the first time since the 2008 Music City Bowl and BC’s defense held, allowing only Shaun McClain’s 32-yard field goal. BC then scored on its next four possessions, opening a 24-3 lead late in the second quarter.
The Eagles held Weber State to 33 yards on 20 carries in the first half, collecting two fumbles. “The mental part of the game was our downfall,” Wildcats coach Ron McBride said. “Against a good team you can’t have mental mistakes. The second half was a different story.”
Harris sparked the first scoring drive, breaking free for a 21-yard run to move the ball to Weber State’s 24 before Shinskie connected on a 6-yard TD toss to tight end Chris Pantale four plays later. After holding Weber State on the next possession, BC went 76 yards in eight plays as Shinskie capped the drive by throwing a 17-yard TD pass to Ifeanyi Momah to make it 14-3.
Harris’ 4-yard TD run ended a seven-play, 64-yard drive that increased it to 21-3 just 2 1/2 minutes into the second quarter. Nate Freese booted 33-yard field goal attempt to cap the next drive. After Cameron Higgins hit Shaydon Kehano with a 24-yard TD pass for Weber State, backup quarterback Mike Marscovetra took the Eagles 63 yards for a score, hitting a wide-open Sterlin Phifer in the left corner for a 22-yard scoring pass, making it 31-10.
Weber State dropped to 3-43 in games against Division 1 FBS teams. Gause grabbed Higgins’ tipped pass along the left sideline and raced untouched for a score late in the third quarter, making it 38-13. Josh Booker had a 4-yard scoring run for the Wildcats with 19 seconds left in the game.