NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP): Call the Vanderbilt Commodores winners and champions. The program previously known best as the Southeastern Conference's perennial cellar dwellers finally have earned it.
Vanderbilt earned its first bowl win in exactly 53 years by beating Boston College 16-14 Wednesday in the Music City Bowl, a victory that also gave the Commodores their first winning season in 26 years.
And they understand exactly what they did.
"Words can't describe how much this means to this program," center Bradley Vierling said. "To be 7-6 instead of 6-7, to be winners instead of losers. This means everything. We're loving every second of it."
Bryant Hahnfeldt kicked three field goals, the last a 45-yarder with 3:26 left for the winning margin. Sean Richardson scored the lone touchdown for Vandy by covering a botched punt in the end zone in the third quarter, and the Commodores outplayed the nation's best defense at picking off passes by intercepting two themselves.
Vanderbilt hadn't won a bowl game since the 1955 Gator Bowl, hadn't played in a bowl since the 1982 Hall of Fame Bowl and hadn't won more than six games in a season until earning this bowl trip. Coach Bobby Johnson, who didn't mind having a cooler of water dumped on him at the end, called it a nice piece in the building process.
"I guess everybody can figure out we're pretty happy," Johnson said. "We're thrilled to win the Music City Bowl right here in Nashville in our hometown. ... We kept our composure and made some big plays when we had to. It may not have been the prettiest victory in the whole world, but it is for us now."
Boston College's loss snapped the nation's longest bowl winning streak at eight games. The Eagles (9-5) went from playing for a spot in the Orange Bowl a month ago to losing to a team that finished third in the SEC's Eastern Division.
The Eagles also missed a chance to finish with at least 10 wins for a third straight season.
BC prides itself on stingy defense, and the Eagles held Vanderbilt to 200 yards offense and just 1-of-15 on third downs. But a defense that led the nation in interceptions and turnovers couldn't force Vanderbilt into any mistakes.
"We just came up on the short end," Boston College coach Jeff Jagodzinski said. "It came down I think again to turnovers. When you turn the ball over, you have a hard time."
Dominique Davis threw for 190 yards and two touchdowns, the last a 55-yarder to Colin Larmond Jr. with 3:26 left that put the Eagles up 14-13. But Myron Lewis, the Vandy cornerback who gave up that TD pass, intercepted a Davis attempt with 1:36 left.
Boston College lost center Matt Tennant to an injured left elbow in the second quarter and punt returner Rich Gunnel to an injury as well. All-SEC cornerback D.J. Moore of Vandy sprained his left ankle a play after Tennant was hurt. He returned but couldn't finish the game, then announced his intentions to enter the NFL draft.
"Obviously, you don't want to get hurt and not play that much, but a win is a win," Moore said.
Vanderbilt made the fewest mistakes in a game where the Eagles were flagged three times for the only penalties.
Appropriately enough, Commodores punter Brett Upson was selected the game's most valuable player. Upson averaged 42.6 yards on nine punts, including the one that bounced off the left knee of the Eagles' Paul Anderson and resulted in Richardson's TD with 10:35 left in the third.
Officials huddled, then ruled it a touchdown. Replay upheld the decision.
"Paul tried getting out of the way there," Jagodzinski said. "We need to have a call from the guy in the back end to get away from it when it bounces, and it hit him. That's how close it is."
Vanderbilt played musical chairs at quarterback, giving redshirt freshman Larry Smith his first career start in the program's biggest game in decades. Johnson also used Chris Nickson as a running threat, and Mackenzi Adams contributed by taking a roughing the passer penalty that helped set up Hahnfeldt's winning kick.
Eagles linebacker Mark Herzlich, the Atlantic Coast Conference defensive player of the year, said he was just trying to make a play.
"Either way, it wasn't deliberately late," Herzlich said.
It was more than enough for Vanderbilt.
"We'll take whoever can do it anyway we can win," Johnson said.