LB Brian Toal (6 tackles, TFL; 1 rush, two yards on a 3rd-and-1 situation)
DE Brady Smith (5 tackles, 0.5 TFL)
Offensive Line (No sacks allowed; senior captain Josh Beekman was named the ACC Offensive Lineman of the Week.)
#5. LB Tyronne Pruitt (9 tackles, FF, .5 TFL) - Pruitt's nine tackles are a better testament to his game on Thursday than any other statistic. He was like a roving safety playing directly behind the line, tackling everything that came out the backfield. Screen to the sideline, Pruitt was there. Branden Ore breaks through for a big gain, Pruitt makes a solo stop in the open field to prevent an even longer run. He even did it on special teams. On a kick return in the third quarter, Eddie Royal brought the ball out to his own 41, but Pruitt- who came from the other side of the field and was virtually the last line of defense- wrestled him down before he could take it to the house. Pruitt's biggest play came in the first quarter, when he stripped David Clowney after the wide-out had just crossed the first-down marker. Remember when BC's defense was terrible? It was because they couldn't tackle (or defend the pass, but that's a different story). Tackling is all that Pruitt did Thursday, and it made a noticeable difference.
#4. LB Kevin Akins (6 tackles – all solo, 2 sacks for 24 yards) - While Pruitt was quietly roaming behind the line, Akins was exploding through it untouched. Akins has become the big play guy for the defense, now that his role as a pass rusher has been solidified. As a redshirt freshman last year, Akins was a cornerback (he was big for his position). This year he has bulked up slightly (from 205 last year to about 215 now) but retained his speed, which has done nothing but create mismatches for opposing offensive lines. Akins came off the bench Thursday night and provided his usual energy, in blitz form.
After narrowly missing a couple sacks in the early parts of the game (Virginia Tech QB Sean Glennon threw a last-second shovel to Ore before being destroyed by Akins at the end of the first half), Akins saved his best for the fourth. On 3rd-and-16 at BC's 40 at the beginning of the fourth, Akins came through on a delayed blitz and hammered a surprised Glennon twelve yards behind the line. The sack put Tech out of already-difficult field goal range and gave Frank Beamer no other recourse but to punt from his own territory. With just 2:50 to play and the Hokies backed up on their own 17, down 17, Akins came through with a two-minute drill's worst enemy: another sack, this one for an 11-yard loss. His standout performance even forced my dad to ask me well after the game, "Who's that #7?" That's Kevin Akins, Dad, and he eats quarterbacks for lunch.
#3. WR Kevin Challenger (3 catches, 45 yards, 2 TD) - He didn't catch many, but the few that he did were the most significant offensive plays of the night. Bonus points go to Challenger for staying in there for the first touchdown reception, when a safety was licking his chops behind him. On his second TD catch, which sealed the victory in the fourth quarter, Challenger ran an option route to perfection and found miles of open space.
There were a lot of questions coming into the season about whether the Tony Gonzalez/Challenger receiving tandem could be anywhere near as productive as Will Blackmon/Larry Lester. Well, how's this for productive: Through the first six games of the season, Challenger and Gonzalez have combined for 46 catches for 522 yards and eight touchdowns. Blackmon and Lester through six games last season? 43 catches for 488 yards and just two touchdowns (both by Blackmon). Challenger himself is already at a better pace than Blackmon a year ago. He now has 24 catches for 281 yards and four touchdowns, compared to Blackmon's 24 for 266 and two touchdowns. Impressive stuff for a second-string receiver who was supposed to be a downgrade from last year.
#2. LB Jolonn Dunbar (8 tackles, INT) - There's a reason this guy plays middle linebacker, and a whole other reason why he's one the captain of the defense. Dunbar just makes plays everywhere, especially when the defense needs them. Dunbar was right beside Pruitt on the outside when they needed to force Tech's receivers back into the middle after a quick screen (they combined for a tackle more than once). He and Larry Anam stuck Ore behind the line on 3rd-and-1 at BC's 18, which set up Brian Toal's fourth-down stop on the next play. The crucial swing in momentum for the Eagles occurred in the third quarter, when the defense simply would not allow the Hokies to do anything. It started on Tech's first possession of the second half, right after what initially looked like a forced fumble by B.J. Raji was reviewed and called an incomplete pass. On the very next play, with Eagle fans still upset that a turnover had been ruled otherwise, Dunbar got the ball back, this time without any doubt. It was third down and true freshman Alex Albright (who is progressing extremely well) tipped Glennon's pass at the line and Dunbar made the easy pick. Then the junior linebacker summoned his high school days as a dominant halfback and took the interception back 32 yards, down to the Hokies' 26-yard line. The ACC rewarded Dunbar nicely on Monday, giving him Defensive Line Player of the Week.
#1. K Steve Aponavacius (2-2 FG (36, 20), 2-2 PAT) - The story of the year, by far. You simply couldn't script this any better. Disney would look ridiculous if they put out a movie with this storyline.
(By the way, although Sportscenter devoted a lot of time to the Sid Vicious story, they mispronounced his name several times and even made a special graphic with a pronunciation key that was completely wrong. For the record, from the man himself, it's "ah-pon-AH-vi-chis." Doesn't sound right, but that's what he says.)
In less than a week, BC went from "awkward kicker situation" to "emotional spark that has given the team a national identity." Just the fact that Aponavicius got to play – in front of a national audience, in primetime, and against a powerhouse that the Eagles never beat at home – was incredible. He won the crowd over when he sent that first extra-point through the middle of the uprights, something that Eagles fans will never again take for granted after witnessing Ryan Ohliger's struggles. But a perfect night? Two field goals in the third quarter when BC drastically needed to come away with points? C'mon. Aponavicius joined Dunbar and Beekman by earning the ACC's Rookie of the Week award, marking the first time three Eagles have received ACC Player of the Week honors in the same week.