McCoy, Lee deliver in Pitt win
SOUTH BEND, Ind. - They were reminded all week that Notre Dame was where college football legends are made, that winning a football game here could give them a permanent place in Pitt folklore.
They awakened the echoes, all right.
The cheers here, after four overtimes, were not for old Notre Dame but for the breathtaking running of sophomore LeSean McCoy and the steady right leg of fifth-year senior Conor Lee. He kicked the first game-winning field goal of his career to complete a 36-33 victory Saturday before a sellout crowd of 80,795 in the longest game in history for either school.
"All the legends are made in games like this," Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said. "Big games, national TV games against great traditional teams like this. The great thing about this win is, the entire team will be recognized and remembered for this for the next 25 years because of the overtime and everything. It's not just an individual. The entire team can share in it."
McCoy rushed for 42 of his game-high 169 yards in overtime, becoming only the third runner in Pitt history to surpass the 1,000-yard mark in successive seasons. After Notre Dame's Brandon Walker blinked in the field-goal duel, missing a 38-yarder wide left in the fourth overtime, McCoy followed an 18-yard run with a 1-yarder to set up Lee's 22-yard clincher, signaled good under the outstretched arms of Touchdown Jesus.
"When you keep on dishing it to him 32 times, sooner or later, he's going to make something good happen," Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis said of McCoy, who averaged 5.3 yards per carry. "He certainly did that."
Lee, a former walk-on from Upper St. Clair, set single-game school records by scoring 18 points and making five field goals - including four in overtime - to become its all-time field-goal leader with 46.
It marked the second time in as many trips to Notre Dame Stadium that the Panthers (6-2) beat the Fighting Irish (5-3) on a field goal. Josh Cummings kicked a 32-yarder with one second left in a 41-38 victory here in 2004, which Lee watched from home as a freshman taking a redshirt.
"Seeing Josh Cummings do that, I just always wanted to do that," Lee said, "and it came true."
Not until after Pitt overcame a 14-point halftime deficit, despite missing its starting quarterback. Bill Stull suffered a concussion and stinger in last week's 54-34 loss to Rutgers and, though cleared to play, never took a snap. Backup Pat Bostick completed 14 of 27 passes for 164 yards and one touchdown in his absence but also threw three costly interceptions.
Pitt's defense came up big in the third quarter, which the Panthers opened with an eight-play, 71-yard scoring drive capped by LaRod Stephens-Howling's 4-yard run to cut it to 17-10. The Panthers held the Irish to a pair of three-and-outs sandwiched around a turnover on downs, then tied the score at 17-17 on McCoy's 1-yard run at 11:03 of the fourth quarter.
McCoy had only five yards in the first quarter but 51 by halftime.
"He's the guy. We know that there's not a secret about it," Wannstedt said. "The strategy was to let LeSean McCoy win the game for us."
Notre Dame quarterback Jimmy Clausen passed for 271 yards and three touchdowns. Two went to Michael Floyd, who set a school freshman record with 10 receptions for 100 yards. The other was a 6-yard corner fade to Golden Tate, who finished with six catches for 111 yards, giving the Irish a 24-17 lead with 5:38 remaining in regulation.
Bostick responded with a pass to T.J. Porter, who made a defender miss for a 37-yard gain to the Notre Dame 32. McCoy followed with an 18-yard run. After attempts to throw a corner fade to Jonathan Baldwin fell incomplete, Pitt called timeout and then threw a 10-yard jump ball to the 6-foot-5 freshman from Aliquippa to tie the score, 24-24, with 2:22 left.
Pitt stopped the Irish on a fourth-and-1 at the 50 with 32 seconds remaining, but a Bostick pass sailed over Baldwin's head and was intercepted by free safety David Bruton, sending the game into overtime.
It came down to Lee and Walker, a sophomore who chose Notre Dame over Pitt. They traded field goals, Lee converting from 22, 32 and 26 yards and Walker from 22, 26 and 48. When Walker's last kick went wide left, Lee calmly made the kick that delivered a heart-stopping victory.
"I really can't describe the heart that our football team has," Wannstedt said. "We have been behind several times this year and fought our way back, but never against a quality football team like this, on the road against a full house. We've got wonderful kids. They never came unglued, as many adverse things that happened in the game, nobody ever folded."Additional Information:
Give offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh credit for his creativity, using Pat Bostick and Kevan Smith at quarterback early, and the direct snaps to LeSean McCoy and LaRod Stephens-Howling out of the Wildcat later. The Panthers rushed for 134 of their 178 yards after halftime, and went 3-for-3 on fourth-down conversions. Bostick threw for 24 yards in the first half and 140 afterward, but he threw three interceptions. The offensive line also drew four false-start penalties, including two by right tackle Joe Thomas, who also allowed a sack.
Middle linebacker Scott McKillop had a team-high 15 tackles for his 12th career double-digit game, and Austin Ransom added 10. End Greg Romeus had three tackles for loss, including a sack in the third overtime. On a positive note, the Panthers held the Irish to 2.9 yards per rush. On the downside, Jimmy Clausen passed for 271 yards and three touchdowns. Pitt came through in the third quarter, holding the Irish to two three-and-outs and a turnover on downs to overcome a 14-point halftime deficit.
Special teams, A
Conor Lee's school-record five field goals weren't the only Pitt positives. Andrew Taglianetti's blocked punt set up Lee's first field goal. Kick coverage was strong, with Taglianetti, Brian Kaiser, Ransom and Stephens-Howling all making big stops. Notre Dame was held to minus-1 yard on four punt returns and just 18.2 yards on five kick returns. The only drawback was T.J. Porter, who replaced Aaron Berry on punt returns, letting one roll between his legs before Elijah Fields recovered at the Pitt 31.