Tied with No. 16 Notre Dame at halftime, Virginia Tech fell 21-20 in South Bend. The Hokies still control their own destiny in the ACC, however, and the team is determined to get back on track.
Ian Book, the senior quarterback for the Irish, led the comeback, scoring the go-ahead touchdown from eight-yards out with less than thirty seconds to play to cap their 87-yard drive.
“We were one play away in all phases of the game,” head coach Justin Fuente said postgame.
The Hokies were tied with the Fighting Irish at halftime at 14 after a 98-yard fumble return for a touchdown from Divine Deablo. The score with nine seconds left in the second quarter gave Tech all of the momentum, especially with the Hokies receiving the second half kickoff.
Brian Johnson nailed two field goals in the second half, including one from 44 yards, to give Tech a 20-16 lead in Notre Dame Stadium.
The Irish came roaring back, however, to extend their home winning streak to 17 games.
Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster was pleased with the group’s effort, though frustrated with the result.
“To come in here and play like we did and handle these situations, it shows where we can go,” Foster said. “We can’t let one game affect another, though.”
When the Irish were driving with a little over three minutes remaining, Foster decided to rush only three lineman and sit eight defensive backs. choosing not to bring an extra man on the blitz.
“We were worried about the quarterback and had lost a couple guys on the back-end,” Foster said. “That probably affected some of our pressure packages.”
The Hokies were undermanned in the secondary with Waller out due to targeting and Farley out due to an injury, so he wanted to provide as much help to the less-experienced replacements.
The Irish proceeded to drive 87 yards in 18 plays, finding senior wide receiver Chase Claypool for gains of 13 and 26. The British Columbia native finished the game with 8 receptions for 118 yards, leading the Irish.
Notre Dame ran the ball on their final play of the drive, however, as Book used his right-side blockers to scamper into the end zone.
Deablo took the blame on the scoring play, explaining that it was his job to keep Book from rushing outside on the play.
“We were playing a coverage where I was in man on the slot receiver,” Deablo said. “Usually I have a contain guy [behind me], but on that play I was the contain guy. That’s on me.”
The redshirt junior safety finished the game with five tackles, a fumble return for a touchdown and an interception.
He’s the first player with a fumble return for a score and a pick since Andrew Motuapuaka did it in 2016 versus Virginia. His touchdown was his first in his career and the longest in Tech history to date, along with being the longest return against Notre Dame since USF’s 96-yard return in 2011.
The play gave Tech all of the momentum before the break, giving a new life to those Hokies that made the trip from Blacksburg.
On offense, the Hokies ran with Quincy Patterson on Saturday, the first career start for the redshirt freshman quarterback from Chicago.
After missing on 12 of his first 15 attempts, he found his groove, finishing the game with 9 completions on 28 attempts for 139 yards and a touchdown. He also rushed 19 times for 84 yards, leading the Hokies.
Before the game, Fuente said that Hendon Hooker was healthy and ready to go against the Irish. Postgame, Fuente said he did not intend to mislead anyone but thought Hooker was ready to go.
“That decision was the hardest I’ve had to make with a quarterback,” Fuente said.
Damon Hazelton finished with five receptions for 63 yards in the Irish comeback, leading Tech’s receiving corp.
The Hokies only put up 240 yards of total offense to Notre Dame’s 447. Book completed 29 of his 53 attempts for 341 yards and two touchdowns, while he rushed for 54 yards on 13 attempts.
Though Virginia Tech came up short in South Bend against the Irish, they must have a short memory, like Foster mentioned. Tech hosts Wake Forest next Saturday in a pivotal ACC matchup.
The Hokies, who are now 5-3 on the season, 2-2 in the ACC, might have to battle through injuries over the next few weeks. Foster said the statuses of those players will be determined over the next couple of days.
As for the team, Deablo said their mentality has not changed.
“It’s still, ‘the next man has to step up.’”