SOUTH BEND, Ind.—There’s nothing predictable about this Virginia Tech football team.
The Hokies, who went to Notre Dame as 17.5-point underdogs to face a No. 16 Fighting Irish team that beat Tech by three TDs last season, were within a half-minute of a shocking upset.
Quarterback Ian Book dashed those upset hopes with a 7-yard touchdown run with 29 seconds to go and give the Fighting Irish a 21-20 victory.
Book made a group of Tech defenders miss on the keeper with a juke move before bouncing it to the outside to cap off a miraculous 18-play, 87-yard scoring drive that featured a fourth down conversion from Tech’s 33-yard line.
Tech’s defense looked like they might pull out a win after forcing Notre Dame to come up empty-handed earlier in the quarter. The Irish drove nearly the length of the field goal down to the 3-yard line, but Jonathan Doerer missed a 35-yard field goal wide right.
Notre Dame benefited from a suspect roughing the passer penalty on Eli Adams that negated a tremendous leaping interception from Armani Chatman. The only reason Chatman was in the game was that starting defensive back Jermaine Waller had been disqualified for targeting on the play before the interception that wasn’t.
Tech led nearly the entire second half thanks to a series of key plays from Divine Deablo making a diving interception in the end zone to Tre Turner’s 50-yard grab as he was blanketed by defensive back Troy Pride Jr. to Brian Johnson knocking through a rare 40-plus yard field goal in the second half that somehow added up to Tech’s fourth straight win.
There also was a 98-yard fumble return from Deablo in the first half that turned the game upside down and had defensive coordinator Bud Foster smiling despite his defense giving up 243 yards of total offense in the first two quarters.
The Hokies were about to go down 21-7 in the final seconds of the half when middle linebacker Rayshard Ashby jarred the ball loose from Notre Dame running back Jafar Armstrong at the 1-yard line.
Two plays earlier, Armstrong made the defender whiff on a tackle attempt to convert a third-and-long.
Tech safety Divine Deablo picked the ball up without a single blue jersey in front of him and stunned the crowd of 70,000-plus with a 98-yards return for a touchdown—the longest in program history going back to at least 1987 and longest by an opposing team against Notre Dame all-time—to tie the game 14-14.
Foster pulled off his headset and broke into a grin as a dedicated group of Hokies fans located in the corner of the end zone made themselves known as Deablo was mobbed by his teammates.
It was a huge momentum swing after Tech had just fumbled at midfield on a handoff exchange.
While Notre Dame was able to consistently move the ball throughout the half, the fumble and an interception in the red zone by Ian Book early in the game prevented it from taking command of the game.
The Irish going 3 of 10 on third down in the half didn’t help either.
Tech’s opportunistic defense helped overshadow an ugly offensive performance by the team’s own offense.
With starting quarterback Hendon Hooker not healthy enough to start from the left leg injury he suffered before the off week, Tech turned once again to former third-stringer Quincy Patterson.
Patterson, who brought Tech back multiple times from the brink of defeat against North Carolina, didn’t have nearly the same kind of success. He started the game 0 of 6 with the offense going three-and-out on seven of the team’s nine drives in the half.
Tech’s scoring drive in the first half was due in large part to a series of miscues by Notre Dame—a botched punt and 30 yards worth of penalties (kick catching interference and face mask)—that gave the Hokies the ball at the Irish’s 26-yard line.
Patterson converted a fourth-and-4 on the drive with a 12-yard throw to Damon Hazelton on the outside. On the next play, Hazelton caught his fifth touchdown in three games to tie the game 7-7 with 1:15 to go in the first quarter.
Tech finished the half with five first downs and 85 total yards of offense.