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Virginia Tech Hokies defensive back Divine Deablo (center) celebrates his fumble return for a touchdown with against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish defensive back Chamarri Conner (right) and defensive back Nadir Thompson (left) in the first half at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, Indiana.

SOUTH BEND, Ind — Virginia Tech safety Divine Deablo assisted on a special teams tackle when the program visited South Bend for the first time in 2016.

Deablo was largely a spectator as the Hokies stormed back from a 17-point first half deficit.

When Notre Dame made the return trip to Blacksburg last season, various injuries kept Deablo out of the lineup. Deablo changed positions and suffered a season-ending injury between those matchups. 

Those setbacks made Saturday’s visit to Notre Dame a special one for Deablo. A 98-yard fumble return for a touchdown and an interception made it even more meaningful. 

“It felt like a dream come true, honestly," Deablo said after the game with a smile. "It’s something you dream about as a kid. Even the play where I got the ball on the fumble, it didn’t feel real at the time.”

That play turned the tide at the end of the first half with Virginia Tech trailing 14-7. Notre Dame looked poised to punch the ball in from the 1-yard line when Rayshard Ashby knocked the ball away from running back Jafar Armstrong.

Deablo quickly scooped it up and went bounding down Notre Dame’s sideline surrounded by a small army of white jerseys.

“Honestly, I saw the quarterback, Ian Book, and I knew he wasn’t going to tackle me, so I just kept running,” Deablo said. “I saw the wall of blockers, so I knew we had a touchdown after that.”

Deablo, who had five tackles (all solo), also had an interception early in the third quarter with Notre Dame trying to erase a 17-14 Virginia Tech lead. It was Deablo’s second career interception and first since four weeks into the 2017 season Old Dominion. 

The safety suffered a season-ending ankle injury on the play.

“I can’t say enough good things about Divine Deablo,” Virginia Tech coach Justin Fuente said after the game. “In the day and age of I and me and all that kind of stuff, Divine is a we guy.... We cheer extra hard when he does well. We love having him around.”

Deablo came into the game tied for second on the team with 43 tackles (21 solo), three tackles for loss, one pass breakup and a forced fumble.

Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster, who went out of his way to give Deablo a hug after the fumble return, offered similar praise for the veteran defender.

“I love Divine Deablo…” Foster said. “Every day he’s got a smile on his face, he enjoys coming to work and compete. He’s one of those guys off the field, he takes care of business. He’s had his ups and downs with his physical issues, which are well documented. And to see him have the success that he is plenty capable of, that he has come back and earned that way to play that way, because it hasn’t been an easy road for him. Just extremely proud of him.”

Deablo's success Saturday night came after he allowed Notre Dame’s first touchdown. Book hit Cole Kmet for an 8-yard score with 9:10 left in the first quarter. Deablo was responsible for Kmet in coverage, but he let the tight end just run past him.

“My eyes got caught in the backfield, because the previous drive, he came out to block me, so that’s what I thought he was doing,” Deablo said. “I was looking at the quarterback, and he ended up slipping out on me.”

What happened next is one of the reasons Foster is so quick to praise the defender.

“He came off and was, ‘That’s my bad,’ but that’s who he is,” Foster said. “He’s going to take ownership but then turn it around and really played a heck of a football game for us.”

Mike Niziolek is the Virginia Tech football beat writer for The Roanoke Times. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

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