Notre Dame tops Hokies in a down-to-the-wire game
Dominic Gibson | Saturday, November 2, 2019
Despite opening up as 17.5-point favorites, Notre Dame needed everything and more to edge out Virginia Tech in 21-20 victory. Even with 447 total yards of offense, the Irish required some late-game heroics including a seven-yard rushing touchdown from senior quarterback Ian Book to cap an 18-play, 87-yard drive and a critical extra point from junior kicker Johnathan Doerer after freshman punter Jay Bramblett handled the botched snap, to push ahead in the dying seconds of the fourth quarter.
Irish head coach Brian Kelly was very pleased with how his team competed and responded after a tough loss in the previous week to Michigan.
“That was a great character-building win for our football team. They endured a lot this week and had their character tested and they responded,” Kelly said. “They found a way to win the football game which is very difficult, especially the way they did it.”
Both the offense of Virginia Tech and Notre Dame started stagnant as each team would trade a three-and-out possession, a common theme for the night with both teams giving up six on the evening. It would not be until 9:10 remained in the first quarter that points were put on the board. Ian Book connected with junior tight end Cole Kmet on a play action call for an eight-yard pass that put the Irish up by seven. Despite several more three-and-outs traded, the Irish would find themselves in penalty trouble late in the first quarter that allowed the Hokies to drive down the field and tie the game up at seven when redshirt freshman quarterback Quincy Patterson II found redshirt junior receiver Damon Hazelton.
The Irish responded with an 11-play, 77-yard drive capped off by a touchdown to begin the second quarter. Quarterback Ian Book hit sophomore tight end Tommy Tremble off a play action pass to regain the lead at 14-7. The offenses for both teams stalled once again after tight defensive play left Notre Dame and Virginia Tech searching for a first down. Virginia Tech finally broke the stalemate and put together a solid eight-play drive, only to be cut short when a miscommunication on the snap allowed Irish junior linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah to grab the ball up and give possession back to Notre Dame. The Irish then drove down to the Virginia Tech two-yard line, seeming to have the momentum and about to take a two-score lead into the half when an untimely fumble by junior running back Jafar Armstrong was scooped up by redshirt junior defensive back Divine Deablo and taken back 98 yards to tie the game up before the end of the second quarter.
Despite the fumble before half, Kelly did not lose confidence in Armstrong.
“This was really his first game back. We saw some really good things today with Jafar Armstrong back in for the first time,” Kelly said. “You got to go back to him. He’s going to mean too much to our offense.
Virginia Tech wasted no time coming out for the second half as they drove down to the Notre Dame 26-yard line before the Irish defense could bow up and force the Hokies to kick a 44-yard field goal off the foot of redshirt junior Brian Johnson to take the lead 17-14. Notre Dame responded with a drive of their own down to the Hokies’ 33-yard line but Book threw his second interception on the day to Deablo for his second turnover recovery of the game.
Heading into the fourth quarter, Virginia Tech drove the length of the field powered by an explosive 50-yard passing play from Patterson to sophomore receiver Tre Turner. The defense of the Irish again held strong and limited the damage to only three points after kicker Brian Johnson split the uprights from 25 yards to take a six-point lead. Despite a near scare on the kickoff that almost resulted in a safety, Notre Dame ran 12 plays to get into the red zone where penalty trouble struck the Irish again. Notre Dame had to settle for a field goal, however, the 35-yard attempt from Doerer missed wide right.
Even with the missed field goal, Irish senior cornerback Troy Pride Jr. was extremely confident that the defensive unit could keep the game at one score and keep the hopes of an Irish victory alive.
“I trust each and every one of my brothers. That’s what it is, that trust. We trusted that we could get it done. We’re going to get the ball back to the offense. We’re going to score and then we’re going to stop them again,” Pride Jr. said. “That was our mindset the whole time. It was never wavering. Never a shadow of a doubt. It was really just us playing our game, playing like we play.”
The Notre Dame defense held on despite surrendering two first downs to force the Hokies to punt and give the ball back to the Irish for a game-winning drive. Starting at their own 13 with 3:32 left in the game, Notre Dame struggled to get the ball moving, eventually needing to convert on a major fourth down in order to keep the Irish in the ballgame. Book connected with Armstrong to help give them a fresh set of downs. But just 10 plays later, the Irish again needed to convert on fourth down and did so when Book found senior wide receiver Chase Claypool, who just managed to get a foot down for a 26-yard gain to the Virginia Tech seven-yard line. From there, Book wasted no time finding the end zone two plays later on a designed quarterback run to tie the game up at 20. Doerer would convert on the extra point to give the Irish the lead late, but not without a heroic hold from freshman punter Jay Bramblett. Bramblett corralled a low snap and get the ball up just in time so Doerer could kick the ball through.
Book credits the time spent in practice and the trust amongst the team that helped power the game-winning drive.
“We practice that every week. We do two-minute drills and we got another minute and 10 seconds,” Book said. “We knew we could go down there and do it and really put up points on this drive. It was really just the trust in each other. I thought O-line did a great job, receivers did unbelievable and I thought the play calling was awesome too.”
Despite the window closing on the chance for another appearance in the college football playoffs, the Irish found a way to dig out a gritty win that can serve as a positive point for the remainder of the season.
“I think we can build off this. I think Ian Book can have great things happen for him. He was back to throwing the football with much more authority,” Kelly said. “Defensively the ability to stop the run today was absolutely crucial. That was the game plan and they did a very good job of controlling the line of scrimmage.”
The Irish will need to maintain their confidence and progress forward as they travel to North Carolina to take on the 4-4, 2-3 ACC Duke Blue Devils in a night time matchup next Saturday.