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Notre Dame won a game they shouldn’t have, and swatted down ghosts to do it

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Notre Dame’s 21-20 win could have been much different, and still could have been a win or a loss.

Virginia Tech v Notre Dame Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images

There were two absolute truths that materialized for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in their 21-20 win over the Virginia Tech Hokies:

  • Nothing that happened during the 60 minutes of play was supposed to happen.
  • We’ve seen this before and this is exactly what happens.

Vegas didn’t do any favors for the Irish karma this week when they made them a 17 point favorite at home against the Hokies. The Irish were coming off an embarrassing loss on the road, and even though they were clearly a better team than Virginia Tech, it’s hard to rebound from that kind of mess.

NCAA Football: Virginia Tech at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Notre Dame fans have seen this kind of a game before during the Brian Kelly era, and those kind of memories linger. “A feisty but overmatched team shows up in Notre Dame Stadium and puts the screws to the Irish,” is the general feeling that we haven’t had over the last couple of years.

Notre Dame wasn’t doing anything special, but up 14-7 with under 15 seconds left in the first half, they were on the 2 yard line and ready to go in to make it 21-7 at halftime. That of course was shot down by the football gods when Jafar Armstrong fumbled the ball and Hokie safety Divine Deablo took it 98 yards for the touchdown. It was the first fumble lost by an Irish running back since their November Shamrock Series game against the Boston College Eagles in 2015.

The ghosts of South Florida started to appear everywhere.

The Irish held a clear advantage on offensive in terms of yardage, At the half, Notre Dame had 244 yards to VT’s 85. Tie ball game be damned — this should have been closer to a blowout.

Instead, the Hokies came out right away in the 3rd quarter and took the lead with a 44 yard field goal. As the Irish continued to struggle running the ball, they added more gas to the fire with another Ian Book interception. As the 3rd quarter came to a close and turned into the 4th, Virginia Tech did just enough to get another field goal opportunity, and Brian Johnson knocked in a 25 yarder to put the Hokies up 20-14.

At that point, there was nothing to suggest that Notre Dame had much chance to come back to win the game.

With 13:25 left in the game, Lawrence Keys took a kickoff and tried to down it in the end zone, but he caught it at the one before momentum carried him over the goal line. It was down at the one, and the Irish needed 99 yards to get the winning touchdown. A roughing the passer penalty nullified an Ian Book interception to keep the drive alive, and they marched it all the way down to the 3 yard line — which included a huge 4th down conversion. An illegal block penalty and a few incompletions finally forced Kelly to call for a field goal to try to cut the lead to three, but Jonathan Doerer missed the 35 yarder.

Down to the 3 and nothing... yeah, we’ve seen this before.

The ensuing Hokie drive chewed up 3:40 on the clock, but they only gained 21 yards in the process and were forced to punt the ball back to Notre Dame.

At some point we were all convinced the Irish would turn it over or do something else terrible, because that’s what our past history has taught us to think. With 3:22 left in the game and 87 yards ahead of them, a comeback was a daunting task. The Irish nickel and dimed their way down the field and with time winding down dramatically, they faced a 4th and 10 from Virginia Tech’s 33 yard line. As the ghosts of close Irish losses arose, a 26 yard strike to Chase Claypool smacked them down, and kept the Irish alive and on the 7 yard line.

Claypool carried the Notre Dame team on Saturday with 8 receptions for 118 yards and should clearly be the MVP despite no touchdowns for the game.

It was getting even scarier as two Book incompletions to Chris Finke and Claypool were the first and second down plays — the clock was down to 33 seconds. Even with a media member in the press box screaming out “NOOOOOOOO,” Chip Long called a run option on 3rd down, and Ian Book planted his left foot as he broke out to the right side and scored the touchdown to tie the game at 20-20. It should be noted that Javon McKinley made an incredible block that helped take care of two defenders to spring Book.

The football gods or bad karma ghosts OR WHATEVER entity that was trying to hold the Irish back were seemingly defeated. Only the extra point remained, and even that was reason to have a heart attack. Luckily, Jay Bramblett is an all-star holder.

The Kyle Hamilton interception sealed the victory and the program had both middle fingers up to those ghosts, demons — WHATEVER.

It really was a gutsy and gritty win for a team that had been anything BUT for the previous 7 quarters of play. None of it makes you feel all that great about the game, this team, and the year — but it wasn’t a loss. It wasn’t a ridiculous loss that included every way to both win and lose the game. It was a win that included every way to both lose and win.

You have to take it. We’ve seen this game many times before and the end result usually doesn’t put a “W” up on the record. The Irish finished a terrible game and did just that.

Mega crisis averted.

NCAA Football: Virginia Tech at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports