ND turns away Pitt, reaches .500
Not this time. Notre Dame built a lead, gave much of it back, but in the end, the Irish held the line in a solid-turned-shaky 23-17 victory over visiting Pitt. The win pulled Notre Dame even at 3-3 and brightened the team's outlook heading into the second half of 2010 after a 1-3 beginning for first-year coach Brian Kelly. It was a similar pattern to a number of recent Notre Dame games, which have often ended in defeat, including a quadruple-overtime loss to Pitt two years ago in which the Irish led at one point by 17-3. In this one, Notre Dame led 17-3 at halftime and 20-3 before the Pitt comeback. "We're a work in progress, from an offensive standpoint," Kelly said. Pitt, which dropped to 2-3 on the season, responded to the deficit with a big second-half run. Quarterback Tino Sunseri ran for a 4-yard touchdown with just under five minutes left in the third, and connected with wide receiver Jon Baldwin on a 56-yard scoring strike midway through the fourth. Sunseri rolled out right and found Baldwin down the right sideline, and the explosive 6-foot-5, 230-pound athlete beat Notre Dame defensive back Jamoris Slaughter for the score and bring Pitt to within 23-17. Notre Dame appeared to strike right back on a 44-yard touchdown pass from Dayne Crist to Michael Floyd, but an offensive pass interference call on Theo Riddick nullified the score. Pitt had two chances to win the game. On the first, the Panthers went three-and-out and punted with just more than three minutes left. On its last possession, two incompletions and a nice tackle by Gary Gray on a slant to Mike Shanahan left Pitt with a fourth and 4 from its own 13. Gray broke up a potential first-down pass attempt to Baldwin, ending the threat. "We're just not putting a full game of football together," Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said. "We have to settle for field goals; we don't finish the drive." That was certainly the case in a first half that was all ND. Notre Dame came out businesslike and executed efficiently, led by quarterback Crist and his early dissection of the Pitt defense. After a lackluster first drive and a Pitt field goal, the Irish got to work. Crist found Floyd over the middle for a 13-yard gain to move inside the 10, and after getting sacked, the Notre Dame signal-caller responded by finding Floyd for a 2-yard touchdown pass on a left-corner fade. The physical Floyd fought off Pitt defensive back Ricky Gary to snare the scoring toss. Crist completed all six of his passes on Notre Dame's second scoring drive, and took the ball in for himself on second and goal from the 10, avoiding the rush and springing along the right sideline for the touchdown. Harrison Smith's interception on Pitt's next possession led to Notre Dame's final score of the half, a 32-yarder by David Ruffer. Ruffer hit two second-half field goals as well, and is now 16-for-16 in his career. His second field goal, the career-best 50-yarder, set a school record, formerly held by teammate and current second-string kicker Nick Tausch. Pitt hurt itself in the kicking game. Dan Hutchins pushed a 27-yard field goal attempt wide right early in the second quarter, and a flubbed hold on a field goal late in the half led to another squandered scoring attempt for the Panthers. Notre Dame inside linebacker Mantei Te'o helped to hold Pitt on that drive, dragging down Dion Lewis on a screen pass after a 3-yard gain on second down, and forcing an incompletion with excellent coverage on a first-down pass to the end zone intended for wide receiver Cameron Sadler. Crist completed 13-of-17 passes for for 135 yards in the first half, as Notre Dame played one of its most complete overall stretches of football this season. He was streaky for much of the remainder of the game, finishing 24-of-39 for 242 yards. Kelly singled out punter Ben Turk's performance for praise. He averaged 46.6 yards on five punts, three of which landed inside the 20.
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