Pitt notebook: Notre Dame's top pass rusher ejected after helmet hit
The NCAA's attempt to regulate helmet-to-helmet hits cost Notre Dame its best pass rusher Saturday night.
Defensive end Stephon Tuitt, who led the team with five sacks entering the game against Pitt at Heinz Field, was ejected in the first half when he tackled quarterback Tom Savage after a 2-yard scramble.
Game officials reviewed the play, in which Tuitt ducked his head and contacted Savage's helmet, and upheld the ruling despite vehement protests from Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly. Helmet-to-helmet hits are cause for ejection for the first time this season.
Savage suffered concussion symptoms Sept. 28 when Virginia's Daquan Romero appeared to make contact with his helmet after a scramble. No penalty was called, and Pitt coach Paul Chryst sent the play to ACC officials for further review.
Tuitt, a 6-foot-6, 322-pound junior, was replaced by sophomore Jarron Jones while Notre Dame was penalized 15 yards for a personal foul. Eight plays after Tuitt left the game, Pitt tied the score 7-7 on a 3-yard pass from Savage to receiver Devin Street.
Adam Bertke, a 2014 Pitt quarterback recruit, is recovering from a broken right (throwing) hand that has forced him to miss five-plus games for Maria Stein (Ohio) High. He was hoping to play Saturday night in his team's first playoff game but does have plans to play basketball this season.
“It was very hard to watch (the games),” Bertke said. “Thankfully we have a good team and a good backup.”
The 6-foot-6, 215-pound Bertke threw for 800 yards and eight touchdowns and ran for a score in five games before his injury. He attended the Florida State and Old Dominion games at Heinz Field, but he may not return if Maria Stein (10-0), champion of the Midwestern Athletic Conference, keeps winning.
Bertke made a verbal pledge in June to attend Pitt, and he said he remains “absolutely” committed.
Quarterback Wade Freebeck, who had led St. Thomas Aquinas to a No. 20 national ranking on Max Preps, struggled Friday in his final regular-season game before the Florida high school playoffs. Freebeck, who verbally committed to Pitt in June, completed only 5 of 19 passes for 89 yards and two interceptions in a 22-7 loss to undefeated Deerfield Beach. St. Thomas Aquinas is 8-2.
Among the recruits and guests on the Pitt sideline before the game were former Pirates manager Jim Leyland, former NBA star center David Robinson, whose son Corey is a freshman receiver for Notre Dame, and former Steelers assistant coach Dick Hoak, who was accompanying his grandson, Camp Hill sophomore quarterback Michael Shuster.