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Coan leads Irish comeback in thrilling win against Virginia Tech

| Monday, October 11, 2021

The Irish hit the road Saturday night to face the Virginia Tech Hokies in front of a crazy loud crowd at Lane Stadium in Blacksburg, Virginia where they escaped with a 32-29 win in thrilling, comeback fashion.

It was a slow start for the Irish with graduate student quarterback Jack Coan not able to spark the Irish offense early.

The Hokies would start the scoring off Saturday night, marching 80 yards down the field on just seven plays in their second drive of the game. The drive was capped by an eight-yard rushing touchdown from Hokie running back Raheem Blackshear.

The Irish offense would continue to struggle, as Coan was sacked again on a third and long situation. That marked the third Irish punt in the first quarter.

Hokie quarterback Braxton Burmeister’s mobility proved to be an issue for the Irish defense on the ensuing drive, as he eluded the Irish defense on multiple occasions for big yardage plays. The Hokies would march all the way down to the Irish 1-yard line, but the Irish defense had a huge goal-line stand to force a 19-yard field goal to give the Hokies a 10-0 lead.

Freshman quarterback Tyler Buchner was finally able to spark the Irish on the ensuing offensive drive. After a few run plays generated positive yardage, Buchner found senior wide receiver Kevin Austin Jr. down the field for a 46-yard gain to set the Irish up at the Virginia Tech 4-yard line. It was then Buchner who finished the drive off himself with a three-yard touchdown run to bring the score to 10-7 and cap a 7 play, 75-yard drive for the Irish. That touchdown marked Buchner’s first touchdown run of his career.

A few drives later, Buchner found graduate student wide receiver Avery Davis down the middle for a 37-yard completion to set the Irish up at the Virginia Tech 40-yard line. After a key holding call and a couple of short passes, the Irish were on the Hokies’ eight-yard line with just over half a minute to play in the half. Buchner would then find junior running back Kyren Williams in the end zone on an eight-yard passing play to give the Irish a 14-10 lead.

The Hokies weren’t done in the first half just yet, though, as Burmeister found receiver Tayvion Robinson on consecutive plays to put the Hokies at the Irish 35-yard line with 3 seconds remaining. Hokie kicker John Parker Romo then nailed a 52-yard field goal to bring the Hokies within one of the Irish at halftime.

The Irish had the Hokies’ offense on the ropes early in the opening drive of the second half, but a crucial missed tackle on third down by junior cornerback Cam Hart set the Hokies’ offense up inside Irish territory. The Hokies would then turn to their ground game to get the job done with Blackshear rushing the ball multiple times to bring the Hokies inside the Irish red zone. It appeared as if the Hokies had scored a touchdown, but an ineligible receiver downfield call set the Hokies back. The Hokies would ultimately settle for a 26-yard field goal to regain the lead at 16-14.

On the ensuing Irish drive, the Irish would have a quick three and out. It could have been a lot worse for the Irish, however, as Buchner’s pass should have been intercepted if it weren’t for a drop by the Hokies.

The Irish defense would come up huge, though, with senior cornerback TaRiq Bracy intercepting Burmeister’s pass to give the Irish the ball at the Virginia Tech 29-yard line. The Irish would capitalize off the turnover quickly, scoring on just four plays. The drive was capped by a Kyren Williams ten-yard touchdown run, giving the Irish a 21-16 lead with four and a half minutes to go in the third quarter.

After forcing the Hokies to punt, the Irish were pinned at their own 2-yard line. After getting a first down, disaster ensued for the Irish with Tyler Buchner throwing an interception to Jermaine Waller, who returned it for a touchdown. The two-point conversion for the Hokies was no good, but the Hokies regained the lead at 22-21 with just under a minute to play in the third quarter.

On the following Irish drive, the Irish were set back due to an illegal blindside block that disqualified freshman tight end, Mitchell Evans, for targeting. The Irish drive would stall a couple of plays later, forcing the Irish to punt.

After forcing a quick three and out, the Irish got the ball back at their own 20-yard line. The Irish moved the ball into Hokie territory quickly behind some solid runs by freshman running back Logan Diggs and a couple of short completions from Buchner. The drive ended up going to nothing for the Irish, though, as Tyler Buchner threw another interception, giving the Hokies the ball near midfield.

Head coach Brian Kelly praised Buchner for sparking the team despite his miscues late in the game.

“He did some nice things, but you saw, he’s really young,” Kelly said. “He is going to be really good. He’s getting there, but he is not there yet.”

On the following drive, the Hokies were able to convert on some key third downs and quickly drive down to the Irish 14-yard line. It looked like the Irish were going to keep the Hokies out of the end zone, but a 14-yard touchdown run from Burmeister on third and long gave the Hokies a commanding 29-21 lead with just under four minutes to play.

On the ensuing Irish drive, Coan took over the quarterback spot again and immediately sparked the offense. A targeting call set the Irish up at midfield, and after multiple completions to Kevin Austin and Avery Davis, the Irish found themselves inside the red zone with just over three minutes to play. A couple of plays later, Coan found Davis in the end zone for a four-yard touchdown. Coan then scrambled on the two-point conversion, finding Kevin Austin in the end zone for the two-point conversion to tie the game up at 29 apiece with 2:26 to play.

Kelly praised Coan for his ability to come in and play despite being benched earlier in the game.

“He prepared himself mentally to go back into the game and lead two drives,” Kelly said. “That doesn’t happen very often. For me, it was incredibly enjoyable to watch him play.”

On the ensuing Hokies’ possession, the Irish forced a three and out and got the ball back at their own 25-yard line. They then marched down the field to the Virginia Tech 30-yard line, setting up a 48-yard field goal for senior kicker Jonathan Doerer. Doerer nailed the kick, giving the Irish a 32-29 lead with just seventeen seconds to play. The Irish would stop the Hokies in their tracks on the next two plays to prevail and win the football game.

Kelly discussed how the atmosphere did not phase Doerer.

“I was nervous on the sideline,” Kelly said. “He’s done that time and time again. The moment is not too big for him, and he loves those opportunities.”

Kelly discussed the impact Coan made on the last drives of the game.

“He was decisive. The ball came out of his hands. The reads were correct,” Kelly said. “We see him every day and we know that’s what he does.”

Kelly praised the ability of his players to step up when their name is called.

“To see [senior] George Takacs catch a ball down the seam that was intended for Mike Mayer. Or to watch [freshman] Logan Diggs have to come in because [sophomore] Chris Tyree couldn’t answer the bell because of turf toe and Kyren was banged up,” Kelly said. “There are so many stories about players persevering.”

Kelly played a plethora of true freshmen and young players in Saturday night’s victory.

“On the road in this environment we were poised to get them this experience,” Kelly said. “We got to get these guys in this game and get this experience if we want to win the rest of the games we play. They have to feel it and be part of it and contribute.”

Saturday night’s thrilling victory was largely due to Jack Coan. Because of that, Kelly ultimately compared him to MLB Hall of Fame closer Mariano Rivera.

“We had to go to the bullpen today. Enter Sandman. Enter Mariano Rivera. [Coan] closed it out for us,” Kelly said.

The Irish will have a bye next week before playing against USC at home in two weeks, on Saturday, Oct. 23.

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About Nate Moller

Nate is a junior majoring in chemical engineering. He is originally from a suburb of St. Paul, Minnesota and is currently living in Siegfried Hall. Some of his passions include running, cross country skiing, and getting too worked up about Notre Dame and Minnesota sports teams.

Contact Nate