[Photo: Mike DiNovo US Presswire]
Notre Dame’s hopes to get a chance at a national title were almost crushed last night by the Pittsburgh Panthers. Instead the Panthers were left stunned with a loss of their own, and the Irish went on to celebrate another check in the win column.
Panther running back Ray Graham shined almost as brightly as the golden dome yesterday, rushing for a total of 172 yards on 24 carries. The Panthers had several opportunities to put away the unbeaten Irish, but just couldn’t get the job done. Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson scored on a quarterback sneak play in the third overtime to give Notre Dame a 29-26 victory after Pitt threw away a 14-point lead.
“We had opportunities and we didn’t take advantage of them enough,” Pitt head coach Paul Chryst told the media after the game. “That’s what this game comes down to.”
The Panthers (4-6) increased their lead to 11 points in the third quarter when Pitt linebacker Eric Williams intercepted Irish backup quarterback Tommy Rees at midfield. Pitt quarterback Tino Sunseri then completed a 43-yard pass to tight end J.P. Holtz for a first down, and a 9-yard touchdown pass to Holtz to go up 17-6. The Panthers further increased their lead to 20-6 later in the third quarter on a 21-yard field goal by kicker Kevin Harper.
The Panthers were hoping to follow in the footsteps of the 2002 Boston College team which beat an 8-0 Notre Dame also at Notre Dame stadium. But the Panthers somehow could not find a way to finish the job.
“A couple times I thought we had it sealed, but that’s why you play to the last whistle. You never know what’s going to happen,” Pitt linebacker Joe Trebitz told the media after the game.
Pitt appeared to have the upset in hand when cornerback K’Waun Williams intercepted a Golson pass in the end zone. But the Irish defense came to the rescue and held Pitt’s offense. Golson then returned to complete a 45-yard pass to wide receiver DaVaris Daniels at the Pitt 5. Golson followed that up with a 5-yard touchdown pass to running back Theo Riddick. Then Golson ran in the two-point conversion himself, sending the game into overtime tied 20-20.
The Panthers’ big chance to win the game came in the second overtime when one of the Pitt defenders hit the ball in Cierre Woods hands squarely with his helmet and Wood could not hang on to the ball as he attempted to dive into the end zone. The ball was recovered by Pitt safety Jarrend Holley in the endzone, and Pitt got the ball back. Unfortunately, their subsequent drive ended in a missed 33-yard field goal by Pitt kicker Kevin Harper.
“We missed a field goal, that’s why we lost the game,” Pitt quarterback Tino Sunseri told the media post game. “It came down to a special teams play, we didn’t make the play. Give credit to Notre Dame for being able to finish it off.”
Notre Dame finally secured the win in triple overtime on a series of Riddick rushing plays, and a one-yard rushing touchdown by Golson himself.
This is yet another home game that the Irish have narrowly escaped defeat. All five Notre Dame home games this season have been decided by a touchdown or less (with two going to overtime), while their four away games have been decided by an average margin of 28 points.
Kelly has been urging his team to play better at home, but yet again they continue to make mistakes. He told the Irish they had to play better against Boston College, Wake Forest and Southern California.
As one of few remaining undefeated teams left, everyone is trying to pull the big upset against Notre Dame.
“I told them that they have to understand that everybody they play against will play their absolute best. Next week BC will play out of their minds against us. Wake Forest will. They can’t just highlight certain teams on their schedule because they will play their best,” Kelly told the media post game. “I think that’s a lesson learned.”
Notre Dame faces the Boston College Eagles next week, who are 2-7 on the season. However, no Boston College team should be dismissed. They have broken the hearts of Irish fans on far too many occasions to be overlooked. Coach Kelly needs to find a way to keep his squad focused and to not underestimate any team on their remaining schedule.