In A Heartbreaking 32-29 Loss For Virginia Tech, Notre Dame Gets Last Word

Notre Dame’s Jonathan Doerer kicked his second game-winning field goal of the season in Blacksburg on Saturday. (Ivan Morozov)

For the second time this season, Virginia Tech found itself on the wrong side of a heartbreaking loss. First, at West Virginia in a rivalry game on Sept. 18. Three weeks later, at home against No. 14 Notre Dame. It didn’t matter that the Hokies led for over half of the game. They got the short end of the stick in the 32-29 loss.

“It’s a tough one obviously to swallow,” Tech head coach Justin Fuente said.

That it is. For the players and coaches in the program and for those who support it. As I overheard someone say after the game, “It doesn’t matter that they played really well for three quarters. In the end, they came up short.”

How my prediction for the game (Notre Dame by a field goal, plus a defensive touchdown) was so accurate, I’m not sure. This was higher scoring game than many anticipated, but it ended like I guessed – a walk-off field goal by Notre Dame’s Jonathan Doerer to silence a sold out Lane Stadium.

The one incorrect thing from the preview, though, was the whole stalemate part. The Hokies and Irish took some pages out of the college football games earlier in the afternoon and turned it into a thrilling event.

Ultimately, however, it ended in Virginia Tech’s heartbreak. The Hokies (3-2, 1-0 ACC) are 14-10 in one-possession games (seven-point margin) in Justin Fuente’s six-year tenure. That number is 1-2 in 2021, 3-5 in the last two seasons and 6-8 in the last three. For comparison, it was 8-2 through his first three years.

Why can’t the Hokies finish this season? They were doomed by a poor start in Morgantown, sure. But in front of 65,000 fans with a ranked team in their own house? 

When Virginia Tech quarterback Braxton Burmeister used his wheels to scoot into the end zone on a 19-yard rush with 3:55 to play, it seemed like the Hokies just needed one stop. But after playing a solid first three quarters, the defense caved. The Irish, led by Jack Coan, maneuvered their way down the field on a seven-play drive in just over 90 seconds to tie it up.

Braxton Burmeister’s touchdown run in the fourth quarter could’ve been the dagger – but it wasn’t. (Ivan Morozov)

Burmeister & Co. stalled, and left too much time on the clock for Brian Kelly’s squad. Coan led another surgical drive, resulting in Doerer’s kick with 17 ticks left.

You can make the case that the game ultimately doesn’t matter to Virginia Tech. It’s a non-conference matchup and the Hokies are 1-0 in the ACC. Get the least amount of scratches out of the division while running the upcoming seven-game gauntlet and you’ll be rewarded. That’s how some will view it, no doubt.

Yet, this one is different. That same conversation I overheard also provided another interesting comment: “For a coach that is trying to prove to a fanbase that he is the guy, these are the games you have to win.”

There are so many different ways to dissect and analyze the game. The Hokies fought and played their hearts out, and losing linebacker Dax Hollifield to a questionable targeting penalty late is tough. So is rotating quarterbacks and playing without your starter, which Tech did. 

It doesn’t answer the question that is on everyone’s mind, though – why can’t the Hokies finish?

Amare Barno (12) and Jordan Williams (12) helped the Hokies shut Notre Dame down for three quarters. (Ivan Morozov)

It starts with the offense stalling. Virginia Tech had 13 possessions throughout the game. Four of them finished in three-and-outs, and one was a Burmeister interception on third and long. On the other eight drives, Tech punted twice, kicked three field goals and scored two touchdowns. That doesn’t count the final possession where the Hokies lost two yards on two plays while trying to win the game.

Specifically three times in the second half, though, the Hokies ran four plays or less on an offensive possession. On two of the three in the second half, Notre Dame scored on the next offensive series. Tech’s offense was on the field for 3:09 between those three offensive drives, and two of those possessions were less than a minute. That’s not a lot of time to give your defense a breather, and the Irish turned around and made the Hokies pay.

“I wouldn’t say we ran out of gas,” Tech defensive end TyJuan Garbutt said. “A lot of things just went against us. We had one of our leaders taken out of the game due to the penalty. A lot of things we weren’t executing [that] we executed in the first half or the first three quarters.”

That was just one of the many things available for pinpointing after Tech’s loss. The Hokies chasing points at the end of the third quarter after Jermaine Waller’s pick six – an unbelievable play and swing of momentum – when leading 22-21 seemed like an okay decision at the time. Get it, you’re up three. Don’t, only up one. But it was the tiny mistakes like that which came back to nip the Hokies in the butt.

Jermaine Waller’s pick six was a fantastic defensive moment against the Irish. (Ivan Morozov)

Tech didn’t get it, though, and still went for it, even after a false start by Nick Gallo. And, in the fourth quarter, Notre Dame scored with 2:26 to play and trailed by two because of that mishap. The Irish converted, leading to a tie ball game. If Tech had kicked it when it had the chance, it’s a one-point game, even with Notre Dame’s two-point conversion.

There was also the decision to punt with fourth and one with two minutes to play at your own 27. Tech didn’t lose because of that call, but it’s definitely a play that could’ve changed the game.

Still, this game seemed like a microcosm of recent years with this program – losing in one-possession games at home against Miami and Liberty by a combined four points or coming up short in South Bend in 2019 thanks to an Ian Book magic drive.

A moment that stood out was on Virginia Tech’s third drive of the second half. On 1st & 10 from the VT 41, Burmeister threw a pass to where he thought Turner was going to be – cutting inside towards the middle of the field, around the ND 20. Turner ended up at the ND 40 by the sidelines on an out route. The pass and the target were 20 yards away from each other, and it was the little things like that which cost the Hokies the game.

Settling for a field goal on the opponents’ one-yard line could be criticized, too. But all in all, the Hokies came up short. Tech shot itself in the foot with a few penalties – two linemen downfield called back a Tayvion Robinson TD catch – and generated offensive output at random times.

Burmeister completed 15 of 30 passes for 184 yards, while the Hokies ran for 153 yards and two touchdowns. Tre Turner led Tech in receptions with six for 80 yards. It seemed like the script for the game randomly flipped, though.

Tre Turner had a few big plays for Virginia Tech on Saturday, but it wasn’t enough. (Ivan Morozov)

Trailing 10-0 halfway through the first half, Notre Dame mounted a comeback and led at intermission. Mixing and matching Coan’s passing abilities with Tyler Buchner’s athleticism seemed to work for Brian Kelly’s bunch. As Garbutt said, Tech did pretty well against Buchner once Justin Hamilton had time to adjust.

“It is a pretty big change, because the other guy [Coan], he’s more of a pro-style quarterback,” Garbutt said. “He’ll just stand in and go through progressions. The second stringer, the guy they put in, I’d say he’s more one read and go, and it takes a minute to get adjusted, especially when they have different type of plays and personnel they’ll run with a different type of quarterback.”

Virginia Tech used multiple quarterbacks, too. Burmeister injured his shoulder in the third quarter – “I landed on my shoulder weird and my arm kind of went numb, so I was just kind of dealing with the numbness” –  and Tech inserted Connor Blumrick. The former Aggie moved the ball some (and ultimately set up Burmeister’s TD rush) but stalled once as well.

Ultimately, it just wasn’t the Hokies’ night. Losses are never easy, either, and heartbreaking ones are worse. But Virginia Tech still has seven regular season games to go play, starting next Saturday vs. Pitt (3:30 p.m). They can’t dwell on the loss for two long; they have to turn the page.

“Mentally, you’ve got to look at all the good things we did and look at the positives from this game, and you’ve got to build on them,” Garbutt said. “There are negatives in every game. Even when you win by 40, there’s something that probably didn’t go your way during that game. We’ve just got to continue to keep our head down and work, because that’s what this team’s really built off of. It’s built off of moving on.

“I’ll say this: The morale in the locker room, it wasn’t the fact that that, ‘oh, we’re upset.’ It was more that we know that we gave them the game, and that’s the heartbreaking part. I feel like us being a veteran, older group, we know that we’ve got to turn the page.”

Full box score:

27 Responses You are logged in as Test

  1. Ah, and people used to grill Coach Beamer on a regular basis. Lot to be said for that consistency thing and look at the list of walk-ons who became stars and played on Sunday. That staff knew talent!

  2. This one’s on the coaches, including Fuentes. No way should we be throwing the ball with <3 minutes to play. Make ND use their TOs, run the damn ball, and then punt – without the extra time on the clock, we are headed to OT, a better situation than what we gave the Domers. Sigh. This isn't rocket science coaching, guys.

  3. It seems people want to point at specific scenarios and say “this is where we lost the game.” You can’t just say “if we got these points here we would have won the game.” The whole game scenario changes with each play. How you finish the game matters. We were up 8 with 3 min to go, we’re in the final stretch… We let them score a TD and then we let them score two more points to tie up. We shouldn’t have let that happen. Then the football gods give us another chance to win the game, just go down, run out the clock and score, and we don’t do it. So then the football gods give them the ball and tell us “just don’t let them score,” and we let them score. 4 opportunities blown in the final 3 minutes. Winning is about finishing and we didn’t finish. We need to stop putting ourselves in close, coin flip games and just beat them from start to finish like we did against UNC this year or Pitt back in 2019.

  4. Another one gets away. Reminds me of that commercial with the guy who has the dollar bill on the string.
    Couldn’t understand the targeting call on Dax. That penalty was huge in terms of keeping their drive alive and of course, propelling them down the field. If you want to watch a mugging, watch their O Lineman rip down and hold #45 on their 2 point conversion in the video above at the 2:30 mark. It’s no wonder the QB had 3 hours in the pocket and they scored on the conversion. That was a flagrant penalty, with our player jumping up looking for the flag that never came.
    Overall, some real head scratchers in terms of decision making, strategy, and game management as documented by others. The D played 3 good quarters but had some issues tackling and a few blown coverages. Again, our red zone woes on offense persist. Why on earth do you not go for it on 4th and goal from the 1, at home against a ranked opponent? And another stupid false start penalty at a key point in the game which ended up screwing us on the 2 point conversion.
    Game atmosphere was good – didn’t feel that electricity in the air – but the crowd was loud. Good experience for the recruits but this was a big fish that got away. CJF had it all the way up to the boat. If Fuente keeps letting these kinds of opportunities slip away, his clock will start winding down exponentially.

  5. Completely agree that Tech should have kicked the extra point instead of trying for two, even before the penalty. Don’t chase points until you have to. Not only did you not get that one extra point, but bigger to me, there was a HUGE momentum let down in the stadium when Tech did not convert.
    Now, all that said, I can guarantee you that had Tech kicked the extra point and still not won, fans would be bitching about not going for 2 so close to the 4th quarter.
    For many, and unfortunately many that sit around me, you just can’t win. Damned if ya do and damned if you don’t.
    Worlds full of great D1 coaches, that just so happen to all sit near me. Can’t wait to gain so many more pearls of wisdom next week from the “gurus”.

    1. Don’t think many would have bitched at going for 1 point after the penalty. Before, I think you are right.

  6. Fuente is an utter embarrassment losing to a crappy ND team at home. Kicking on 4th and goal at the 2, kicking on 4th and 3, kicking on 4th and 1 with the game on the line. Please fire him today and I don’t care about the financial implications. The kids put it all on the line and this clueless millionaire sells them out.

  7. It is a snapshot of VT with Fuente as the coach. Unfortunately, it has become the expected in a game such as this….. Now I’m concerned because Burmeister and the back up quarterback are both hurt. Pittsburgh will score at least 30-35 points, and I’m not sure the VT offense will be able to keep up throughout the game.

    1. Spot on. When our offense relies in the quarterback to use his legs 2-3 times as much as the top running back, we are in trouble when said quarterback – and his tank of a backup – are both injured.

  8. We lost the game in the 2nd quarter when we could not get a TD with 1st and goal from the 2.

    Our players gave all they had last night, ND in the vast majority of positions had better players than we did, That is on our coaches. Like WVa a game we should have won and did not!

  9. Where’s the frustration on the defense? We seemed to play soft coverage at the end and applied no pressure. That’s usually a formula for the outcome we all witnessed. Hope Coach Hamilton can lean from this.

  10. Another “heartbreak hotel” moment for the Hokies who just can’t get it done. I’m tired of hearing about Enter Sandman and the atmosphere at the games. How about hearing about winning and a damn good football team?

    1. Here’s another spin on your thought: I’m not tired of hearing about Enter Sandman or the atmosphere at all but just imagine if we had adequate coaching to mix with the atmosphere. How great would that be? Then we’d have Game-Day back and a National TV audience…not just the ACC Network.

  11. Can’t believe people getting so wound around the axle about the 2PC attempt when VT kicked a FG from the 1 yard line instead of scoring a TD. That was the play that doomed VT, they get 7 instead of 3, none of the rest matters.

    1. The issue is the “2PC” is a clear mental mistake that was a mathematically proven poor decision. It doesn’t get any more black/white than looking at the clear calculable odds. The lost TD, while we agree is more detrimental, can is hard to point directly at coaching as there are many involved factors (eg: good defense, poor execution, play calling, player assignments, who knows)

  12. The 2 point conversion did not look ok at the time. It was clearly stupid after the penalty and the effect was easily predictable.

    What was more likely,

    1. Tech makes the 2 pointer from 8 yards with a cold backup QB AND ND makes a field goal to tie or

    2. Tech kicks the point, AND scores the next TD to go up 9.

    I say #2, and I said it in real time

    1. Agreed. Since our offense struggles mightily to score a TD on 1st and goal, I was hoping we would just kick the extra point BEFORE THE PENALTY. When the penalty occurred, I was relieved and posted, as it ensured we would just kick it. I guess I should have hoped for a 2nd penalty to push us to the 20 yard line, but not sure if the staff still would have gone for it. Total head-scratcher as we did not play the odds.

      1. Total head-scratcher >>>>

        Predictable Outcome!!!

        95% = getting 1 point
        33% or less from 8 yards = getting 2 points

        Add in that it was in the third quarter and the scoring sequences in the time remaining was UNpredicatable.

        BTW – had a drunken brawl in the row behind me between Hokie fans. Add in that several drunks five seats over on our row almost got it a fight with the couple in front of them – because they kept spilling beer on them. I sit in Section 9 on the 45 – NOT in the student section. It was a disgraceful display in front of my 3 special guests and two ND couple sitting around me. But – it’s beer money.

        1. I sit the next section over to the right, and I witnessed that fight. The cops got there in a HURRY.

          1. We almost witnessed a pretty bad fight over in section 16. Both groups had been consuming quite a bit of alcohol. A senior woman who knits during the games (always maroon yarn) went and talked to both groups and calmed them down. It was surreal. She must have been a 4th grade teacher before retirement.

          2. Will, One of the perps tried to get in a few extra punches while thecop was restraining him. The cop bent him like a pretzel – cuffed him – and whispered a few sweet nothings in his ear. Meanwhile we were picking up the perp instigator who my friend and I slowed his decent as he was flying to the row below us and ended up laying at our feet in a drunken – but painless stupor. You should’ve gotten pic for Techsideline – Saturday night fights.

            1. Small world, I was one row behind and about three people over from the fight.

              Guy in black hat was total jerk – completely drunk, he started giving an older guy (I resemble that) on the aisle seat a hard time – older guy told him he was trying to get in the wrong row – he was, his friends about two rows behind me were yelling for him. Black hat guy started mouthing off trying to intimidate older guy. Others stepped in between and black hat guy took a swing at one of them – it broke loose and about 2-3 people fell – apparently into your row – destroyed 4-5 seatbacks.

              Was kinda sad, guy had VT shirt on and one of his friends had ND shirt on and was doing his best to get down to him to get him in right seat – but he got what he deserved.

              1. destroyed 4-5 seatbacks.>>>>
                One was mine and another was my friend who was sitting beside me. If the guy in the black hat had connected on his last swing – he would have taken the other guy’s head off. Luckily that guy just fell into us.

    2. Yep, you do not chase points in the 3rd Qtr. Especially after a false start! The other stupid decision by CFu was not going for it on 4th and one, seen that script too many times. Should have gone for it and put the game away instead of giving it back to them. Even if ND gets the ball there and makes a FG we probably have a time left to respond.

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