Irish build lead, but revert to form and fall to Virginia Tech

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Virginia Tech’s Jerod Evans runs away from Notre Dame’s Isaac Rochell for a touchdown at Notre Dame Stadium. | Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — It was a chilly, snow-flurry-filled Senior Day, the last home game of a season that never got off the ground.

In other words, a good time to say goodbye, right?

Yup. But even this home farewell was another angst-filled exercise, like so many before it.

After opening a 17-point second-quarter lead Saturday, Notre Dame reverted to form with a 34-31 loss to Virginia Tech.

Notre Dame’s seven losses have come by only 32 points, leaving the Irish with four home losses for only the third time (1960, 2007) in the school’s storied history.

‘‘These kids are wonderful kids,’’ coach Brian Kelly said after a tear-filled farewell for the team’s seniors. ‘‘I’m at a loss for words as to what to tell them. It’s just been a difficult year. They work so hard. They play so hard. They’ve been ahead in so many of these games. Unfortunately, it’s just one of those years. I haven’t had one like this in my 26 years of being a head coach.’’

The defeat means that even if the Irish (4-7) pull off a miracle at No. 13 USC next Saturday, their bowl chances are virtually gone. Some 5-7 teams may sneak into the postseason, but ND’s Academic Progress Rate makes that scenario a big reach.

‘‘We’re going to wake up from this nightmare, and we’re going to be 11-0, I think. [Or] maybe not,’’ Kelly said. ‘‘There are a lot of inexperienced players that are going to benefit from this. It’s not helping me any, but it’s going to help those guys that have gone through it.’’

The resilient Hokies (8-3) can lock up a berth in the ACC championship game by beating Virginia next week, and never mind that they’ll be a huge underdog in the title game. They will have accomplished a lot under first-year coach Justin Fuente.

That’s not the case for the Irish, who began the season in the top 10 and were considered a College Football Playoff dark horse.

‘‘When you don’t execute, you don’t win,’’ said quarterback DeShone Kizer, who completed only three of 15 passes in the second half after going 13-for-18 with two touchdown passes in the first half.

Kizer tiptoed around questions that he will enter the NFL draft, saying, ‘‘After next week, we’ll evaluate it as a family and make the right choice.’’

But it’s widely expected that Kizer won’t return. And backup Malik Zaire is expected to transfer. Sophomore Brandon Wimbush is considered the quarterback of the future for a program that listed only six non-returnees on its 44-man two-deep roster.

Offensive tackle Mike McGlinchey agreed that ND will use its string of heartbreaker Saturdays to bounce back more determined at USC and in 2017.

‘‘We understand how crappy this feels,’’ McGlinchey said, ‘‘and what we need to do and what we haven’t done well in these close games. It’s beneficial, any experience you get. When life hits you hard and adversity hits you, it’s a time to grow. And that’s what this team is going to do.’’

Building a 17-0 lead on a 173-4 yardage edge early in the second quarter, Notre Dame looked like it might be on the way to a command performance.

But the Irish already had allowed at least 17 unanswered points five times this fall, and this game followed the pattern. The Irish were outscored 27-7 after they led 24-7 midway through the second quarter.

Kelly will finish with only his second losing record in 26 seasons as a head coach. The first was in 2004, when he went 4-7 in his first year at Central Michigan.

Follow me on Twitter @HerbGould and at TMGcollegesports.com.

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