It was a day of upsets in college football with Texas taking down Oklahoma and Florida upsetting LSU along with multiple ranked teams falling to unranked opponents. However, that fortunate did not extend to Blacksburg tonight.
#24 Virginia Tech fell to #6 Notre Dame 45-23 as the Hokies dropped to 3-2 on the season while the Irish improved to 6-0, picking up their third win over a ranked team.
The game proved to be a tale of two halves as the Hokies were able to fight back after going down 10-0 early to make it a one-point along with getting a late first half TD after Notre Dame returned a fumble for a touchdown. However, the second half was all Irish as Notre Dame came out firing and the Hokies were never able to respond in the third quarter.
Notre Dame also had all the big plays including Chris Finke’s 56-yard reception, Julian Love’s fumble return for a TD, Dexter Williams’ 97-yard touchdon run, and Miles Boykin’s 40-yard touchdown that Ian Book got Caleb Farley and Dylan Rivers to bite. Those big plays were a big difference for the Fighting Irish as Notre Dame got 24 points of their 38 points off those big plays.
Notre Dame started out with the ball and had some early success. Virginia Tech’s defense made a couple of big plays, but a facemask on a Jarrod Hewitt sack sent Notre Dame into Virginia Tech territory. From there, Ian Book led the Fighting Irish right down the field going 7-7 for 58 yards while convering a fourth and inches inside the VT to set up a 1-yard touchdown run, giving Notre Dame an early 7-0 lead after a possession that went over 5.5 minutes.
Virginia Tech held the Irish to -3 yards in the first half, but Notre Dame found their running game with some big plays to go with steady passing attack of Ian Book. Meanwhile, the Hokies’ offense fell silent for the first 20 minutes of the second half, allowing Notre Dame to put the game well out of reach by the time they were able to get a score.
After a three and out by Virginia Tech, Notre Dame had another big gain with a 56-yard completion from Ian Book to Chris Finke that set up the Fighting Irish for a 31-yard field goal made by Justin Yoon, giving Notre Dame a 10-0 lead just over 8 minutes into the game.
Virginia Tech found some offensive momentum on their second possession with Ryan Willis and VT steadily moving the ball to midfield. Then, VT pulled a trick play out of the hat with Hezekiah Grimsley finding a wide open Sean Savoy who took it to the house for touchdown that was called back due to an obvious ineligible receiver down-the-field penalty by Christian Darrisaw that brought it all the way back. VT recovered and kept driving but two more offensive line penalties to set up a first and 20 stalled the Hokies’ drive before Brian Johnson made a 39-yard field goal to cut Notre Dame’s lead to 10-3 inside the final minute of the first quarter.
Notre Dame came back out and nearly hit a home run right off the bat as Tyree Rodgers was once again beat by Chris Finke right before the end of the first quarter. Fortunately for Rodgers, Ian Book was able to connect on what would have been an easy touchdown. From there, the Hokies forced their first punt and made a big play after Notre Dame botched the snap and VT tackled the punter at the Fighting Irish 43, giving the Hokies their best field position of the game so far.
Virginia Tech started to gain some more momentum, but a snap infraction penalty by Zachariah Hoyt and an 11-yard sack from Ryan Willis stalled out the Hokies’ momentum. VT was able to recover some to get back into reasonable field goal range with Brian Johnson making a 43-yard field goal to cut the Notre Dame lead to 10-6.
Virginia Tech continued to build their momentum getting another stop at midfield before CJ Caroll muffed and recovered a punt at the VT 9. Virginia Tech was able to get a first down, but the Hokies’ drive stalled out after that with Willis showing some inaccuracy after the first down.
Virginia Tech’s defense made their first big of the night after that as Reggie Floyd was right in front of the Notre Dame receiver and intercepted his second pass of the season, handing Ian Book his first INT of the season. From there, Steven Peoples had a big 41-yard run on second down to get the Hokies all the way down to the 1, the latest big run this season for the senior RB. However, the Hokies were shut down at the 1 with Steven Peoples being stuffed and then having a collision with Ryan Willis on third down. Despite that, Brian Johnson made a 22-yard field goal to cut the lead to 10-9 on what was a missed opportunity in the red zone.
Virginia Tech continued to build on their second quarter momentum forcing an Ian Book intentional grounding that led to a three and out for the Fighting Irish. CJ Carroll then had one of VT’s best punt returns of the season with a 20-yard return to the VT 39.
On that possession, Ryan Willis provided the first spark with an 11-yard scramble. However, Willis tried to scramble again but Khalid Kareem was able to force a fumble on the sack that Julian Love returned for a big touchdown to give Notre Dame a 17-9 lead in a quarter where all the momentum was in the Hokies’ favor to that point.
The Hokies seemed poised to run out the clock after a first down run of 6 by Deshawn McClease, but VT changed it up quickly with a trio of completions to Damon Hazelton along with a Notre Dame offsides pushing Virginia Tech down into the red zone.
Then, the Hokies had another big gain to Sean Savoy with a targeting call on Julian Okwara ending his day and setting Notre Dame up at the 3. On the next play, Willis found a wide open Damon Hazelton for a three-yard touchdown in the near corner of the end zone to cut the Notre Dame lead to 17-16 right before halftime.
Notre Dame took a knee to end the half, but the late touchdown drive brought the Lane Stadium crowd back to life and gave the Hokies all the momentum despite being down 17-16 going into the break.
In that first half, Virginia Tech outgained Notre Dame 215-160 while holding the Fighting Irish to -3 rushing yards. However, penalties and turnovers were costly as Virginia Tech had 5 penalties for 36 yards along with the Willis fumble that Julian Love returned for a touchdown late in the first half.
After deferring to the second half, Virginia Tech came out quick on their first two plays with an 11-yard completion to Damon Hazelton and a 19-yard carry by Steven Peoples. However, the Hokies’ drive stalled at just outside of field goal range, but Oscar Bradburn pinned Notre Dame at their own 5.
However, Notre Dame responded with the biggest play of the night to date with Dexter Williams getting a great block from his pulling right guard and breaking through for a 97-yard touchdown to give the Irish a 24-16 lead.
Like Notre Dame’s other big touchdown, Virginia Tech came out and quickly had multiple big gains in the passing game to get in to Notre Dame territory. From there, the Hokies converted their first third down of the possession via Tre Turner who was shaken up after the play and left the field with VT’s trainers. However, VT’s drive stalled out there before Brian Johnson missed a 47-yard field goal attempt, turning a solid possession into a missed chance to regain some momentum.
Notre Dame started that possession with a pair of first downs on third downs. Then, Notre Dame had another big play on a third down as a pair of Hokie DBs bit on the scrambling of Ian Book allowing Book to find a wide open Miles Boykin for a 40-yard touchdown to give the Irish a 31-16 lead.
Virginia Tech wasn’t able to flip the momentum despite a long gain on a third and long to Eric Kumah. However, the Hokies’ defense recovered well with a big three and out including a sack on third down by Jovonn Quillen.
CJ Carroll had another solid punt return to set up the Hokies at the 50 with Deshawn McClease gaining 12 on first down. However, the Hokies’ drive stalled out from there with VT getting stuck with a fourth and 7 at the Notre Dame 35, and Brian Johnson missing a 52-yard field goal, preserving Notre Dame’s 31-16 lead.
On the following drive, Notre Dame put in the dagger with a 64-yard drive that took almost five minutes and was capped off by a touchdown to Miles Boykin, giving Notre Dame a 38-16 lead.
Virginia Tech was able to put together a strong drive in response marching methodically down the field and converting a fourth down. The play was capped off by a great 15-yard touchdown catch by Eric Kumah to cut Notre Dame’s lead to 38-23.
However, Notre Dame had one final response in them with Dexter Williams scoring a 31-yard touchdown after the Hokies had an unsuccessful onside kick to take a 45-23 lead. After that, Ryan Willis threw his first interception as a Hokie with Notre Dame churning out most of the clock after that before Virginia Tech wound out the game.
Ryan Willis threw it a lot in this game and wasn’t too bad going 31-52 for 309 yards, 2 touchdowns, and 1 interception. However, Willis did miss several throws with his inaccuracy costing the Hokies the chance to have some big gains.
Damon Hazelton had arguably the best game of his career with 12 receptions for 131 yards and a touchdown, his fifth-straight game with a receiving touchdown. Eric Kumah had a solid game with 4 catches for 48 yards while Sean Savoy had his best game of the season with 4 catches for 46 yards.
Steven Peoples led the Hokies on the ground with 9 carries for 64 yards while Deshawn McClease had 6 carries for 33 yards.
Defensively, Khalil Lader had a strong performance in the #25 jersey with 9 tackles including a tackle for loss. Reggie Floyd had a solid game with 7 tackles and an interception while Rayshard Ashby hd 6 tackles including 2 for loss.
While Justin Fuente felt that his team would be “ready” for the primetime stage after spending time playing in big, nationally-televised games earlier this season against Florida State, the second half showed that the Hokies were not against a top 10 team. Virginia Tech was able to hang with the Irish in the first half, Notre Dame had the punches to knock out the Hokies in the third quarter with the Hokies unable to muster a minimal response till it was too late.
The one big positive for Virginia Tech was the fact that the Hokies are still 2-0 in the ACC with 4 of their 6 remaining ACC games coming at home including their games against Miami and Boston College. However, the Hokies’ defense had another tough performance with the Hokies’ secondary feeling the loss of Divine Deablo.