No. 4 Notre Dame rallies to defeat Pitt in 3 OTs
NOTRE DAME, Ind. — Beat down by almost every imaginable circumstance in recent years, Pitt's football team now must find a way to move forward after perhaps the most disappointing loss in recent memory.
In a game that took four hours, seven minutes and had more than enough drama for the sellout crowd of 80,795, Pitt players wearily trudged off the field at Notre Dame Stadium on Saturday after a 29-26 triple overtime loss to the undefeated and fourth-ranked Fighting Irish.
“Terrible,” quarterback Tino Sunseri blurted out during his postgame interview when asked about the mood in the locker room.
“It's kind of down now,” redshirt freshman cornerback Lafayette Pitts said, answering the same question. “Like it should be.”
The team that couldn't defeat Youngstown State two months ago almost pulled one of the biggest upsets of the college football season but instead was forced to explain how it lost a 20-6 lead it had built going into the fourth quarter.
Pitt (4-5) also had a chance to win in the second overtime, but senior kicker Kevin Harper missed a 33-yard attempt after a high snap from backup snapper David Murphy.
“We had an opportunity, a golden opportunity,” coach Paul Chryst said. “We didn't get it done.”
Sunseri was blunt with his criticism.
“We missed a field goal. That's why we lost the game,” he said. “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.”
After talking with a university spokesman, Sunseri addressed the media again.
“A team has to be able to make the play. A team has to be able to finish a game off. A team has to work together to win a game,” he said. “It's not one individual's fault. It's a team game. It's a team loss today.”
Notre Dame (9-0) won in the third overtime when quarterback Everett Golson scored on a 1-yard sneak. The score came after Harper hit a 44-yarder on Pitt's possession.
The victory snapped Pitt's two-game winning streak and kept alive Notre Dame's hopes of winning its first national championship in 24 years.
In the first overtime, Harper kicked a 41-yard field goal, but it was matched by Kyle Brindza's 37-yarder.
Notre Dame appeared to score a backbreaking touchdown in the second overtime, but running back Cierre Wood fumbled while diving into the end zone. Pitt senior safety Jarred Holley covered the football like he was protecting a baby. All Pitt needed was a field goal from Harper and the upset would be complete. But the kick sailed wide right.
“I thought we were going to be able to go down and ice the game,” Sunseri said. “But you have to give credit to Notre Dame. They made more plays than we did at the end of the game.”
Pitt appeared on its way to a 20-12 victory when cornerback K'Waun Williams intercepted a Golson pass in the end zone with 3:59 left in the fourth quarter. But the Irish got the ball back at midfield 56 seconds later. Pitt attempted two passes and Sunseri dropped a snap in the shotgun formation before the Panthers punted.
The Irish forced overtime when Golson connected with Theo Riddick on a 5-yard touchdown pass and Golson converted the two-point run with 2:11 left.
The Panthers took a 10-6 halftime lead and seized control in the third quarter on the strength of four plays.
First, outside linebacker Eric Williams intercepted a pass from quarterback Tommy Rees, who had replaced Golson in the second quarter.
The turnover led to a 9-yard touchdown pass from Sunseri to freshman tight end J.P. Holtz, his second in two weeks. A 43-yard pass-and-run to Holtz on a middle screen set up the score.
Later in the third, a career-high 31-yard punt return by Cam Saddler and running back Ray Graham's 48-yard run led to a first-and-goal at the 2. The Panthers couldn't cross the goal line, however, and it ended up costing them the victory after settling for Harper's 21-yard field goal.
Notre Dame responded in the fourth quarter with an 11-yard touchdown pass from Golson to T.J. Jones. Brindza missed the extra point, and Pitt maintained an eight-point lead.
For much of the game, Pitt hammered at the vaunted Notre Dame front seven with Graham, who finished with 172 yards on 24 carries. He had a 55-yard run in the first quarter to set up Harper's 39-yard field goal.
Sunseri completed 19 of 29 attempts for 164 yards and did not throw an interception for the sixth consecutive game.
“All we have to do is come in every week like this, and it will be pretty hard to beat us,” Pitts said.
But the reality of the outcome weighed on him when he said, “We did pretty good, but we didn't do enough.”
In the first half, Notre Dame's offense moved freely, but Pitt scored the only touchdown before intermission. Notre Dame didn't score a touchdown until the fourth quarter.
Graham scored from the 16 with 3:55 left in the second quarter. With a convoy of blockers, he ran over safety Matthias Farley on his way to the end zone.
Chryst survived questionable strategy with 36 seconds left in the half when he went for it on fourth-and-1 from the 50 and failed.
But Notre Dame couldn't score after Jones dropped a pass inside the 25-yard line and Brindza missed a 43-yard field goal at the buzzer.
The teams traded field goals on their first possessions.
Notre Dame used six players running or catching passes to move from one 20-yard line to the other. But a false start and defensive end Bryan Murphy's tipped pass forced the Irish to settle for Brindza's 37-yard field goal.
Pitt countered with a 55-yard run by Graham on its first play — the longest against Notre Dame this season. But Sunseri was sacked by defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore on third down, and Harper kicked a 39-yard field goal.
Pitt got a break when a 63-yard run by Wood was called back by a holding penalty against receiver DaVaris Daniels. But Notre Dame regrouped and found itself in the red zone nine plays later.
Pitt's defense stiffened after the Irish moved to the 2-yard line.
Riddick appeared to score on the first down, but his knee was down at the 1 and the touchdown was overturned by replay.
Pitt then stopped Riddick for no gain and a loss of 4.
Brindza's field goal gave Notre Dame a 6-3 lead before Pitt scored on the next series.
Jerry DiPaola is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.