SOUTH BEND — With 3:22 to go in the game, Notre Dame trailed Virginia Tech, 20-14, and had the ball at their 13-yard line. Things looked bleak for the No. 16 Fighting Irish, as they hadn’t scored since the 11:45 mark of the second quarter. It seemed as if Notre Dame was destined for a second-straight loss, potentially sending them out of the Associated Press polls for the first time since 2017.
Eighteen plays, 87 yards later and 2:53 later, quarterback Ian Book ran seven yards into the end zone, giving the Irish a 21-20 victory over the Hokies in South Bend.
“It was a designed quarterback run. It worked out perfectly,” Book said.
It was a drive for the ages for the Irish offense, featuring two fourth-down conversions. The first came on the fourth play of the drive, as Book found running back Jafar Armstrong for a five-yard reception on a fourth-and-three from the Irish 20-yard line. Armstrong finished with 96 total yards Saturday (49 receiving, 47 rushing).
Notre Dame picked up three more first downs before facing its second fourth down of the drive. Three-straight incompletions by Book set up the Irish with a fourth-and-10 from the Virginia Tech 33-yard line. With the game on the line, Book dropped back to pass and found wide receiver Chase Claypool wide open. The senior hauled in the 26-yard reception to set up first-and-goal from the Hokies’ seven-yard line.
Claypool took over the final drive for Notre Dame, recording two catches for 39 yards. His first catch on the drive was a highlight-reel grab, dragging his right toe inbounds near the sideline for 13 yards and a first down. The senior finished with eight receptions and 118 yards in the game.
After an incomplete pass on first down, Book took the designed run to the house for the game-winning score with 29 seconds to go.
“There’s no better feeling,” Book said. “I talk about it all the time with the quarterback group: there’s no better feeling then after a win. You dream about nights like this. That’s why you play college football and that’s why you play at Notre Dame.”
Book finished 29-of-53 passing for 341 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. He also had 54 yards rushing to go with the late-game touchdown.
The redshirt junior quarterback faced much criticism this past week after a bad performance against Michigan. Book handled it well, stepping up when the Irish needed him most Saturday.
“You come to Notre Dame to play quarterback, they’re going to love you when you win and hate you when you lose,” Book said. “It’s part of growing up, part of being mature. … It’s about blocking the noise and playing for each other.”
“If you’d played for the New York Giants, he wouldn’t get as much (criticism) that went on here. It was way overblown,” Kelly said of the noise surrounding Book. “Notre Dame, for him, is so important. And Notre Dame means so much to him. And, being the quarterback here, he handled it so well. Came in my office (last) Sunday, Monday, and I thought he did some things in practice this week that allowed us to reach some areas that we hadn’t been able to reach before. I think he’s only going to get better from it.”
Any chance at a Virginia Tech last-second comeback was ended when freshman safety Kyle Hamilton intercepted a Quincy Patterson pass with two seconds left in the game.
Notre Dame’s defense played well throughout the contest, allowing the Hokies just 240 yards of total offense. Patterson finished 9-of-28 passing for just 139 yards, one touchdown and the one interception. The Irish also limited Virginia Tech to 101 yards rushing, which was a point of emphasis this week, according to Kelly.
“Defensively, the ability to stop the run today was absolutely crucial,” Kelly said. “(Virginia Tech) coach (Justin) Fuente is almost .850 winning percentage when they rush for over 150 yards, and 200 in particular. That was the game plan; they did a very good job of controlling the line of scrimmage.”
Notre Dame scored first when Book found tight end Cole Kmet wide open for an eight-yard touchdown grab, making it 7-0 Irish in the first quarter.
Virginia Tech scored a touchdown later in the first when Patterson connected with Damon Hazelton for an eight-yard score of their own, tying the game with 1:15 left in the quarter.
Book found another tight end, Tommy Tremble, on a four-yard score early in the second quarter to give the Irish the lead again.
It appeared Notre Dame was poised to take a 21-7 lead into halftime, as the Irish had a second-and-goal from the two-yard line. Armstrong took a handoff, but Virginia Tech defensive lineman Rayshard Ashby forced a fumble, which was picked up and ran back 98 yards by Hokie safety Divine Deablo. With nine seconds left in the first half, the game was tied at 14.
Virginia Tech then had field goals of 44 and 25 yards by Brian Johnson in the third and fourth quarters, respectively, to give the Hokes a six-point lead late in the game.
Notre Dame (6-2) travels to Durham, North Carolina next week to face the Duke Blue Devils (4-4).