SOUTH BEND – If the loss at North Carolina was disappointing, Notre Dame's four-overtime loss to Pittsburgh on Saturday was devastating.
A couple of big plays and a couple of huge mistakes on both sides brought the game into overtime and the Irish were unable to finish it before making the game's fatal miscue.
Brandon Walker made four field goals, including three in the extra sessions, but his fifth attempt sailed wide left and Pittsburgh capitalized with a Conor Lee field goal to win the game 36-33 in the fourth overtime.
"To sum it up, we get in overtime and you don't score touchdowns, you know sooner or later something bad can happen," Charlie Weis said afterward. "When you get into overtime, that many shots and don't score a touchdown, you're just asking for something bad to happen and it did."
It was a great ending for Pitt.
"Legends are made in games like this, big games, national TV games against great traditional teams," Pitt head coach Dave Wannstedt said. "The great thing about this win, the entire team will be recognized and remembered for this for the next 25 years because of the overtimes and everything."
Jimmy Clausen completed 23 of 44 passes for 271 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions, but the sophomore did leave some plays on the field. Michael Floyd had a career-high 10 catches for 100 yards and two scores while Golden Tate had six grabs for 111 yards and a score. Armando Allen led the Irish running game with 19 carries for 73 yards.
Pat Bostick took most of the snaps for the Panthers and finished 14 of 27 for 164 yards, a touchdown and three picks. But Pittsburgh running back LeSean McCoy carried the load with 32 rushes for 169 yards and a touchdown.
The Irish had a 17-3 halftime lead, but just like the game in North Carolina, a sluggish start to the second half gave the Panthers a chance to get back into the game and ultimately to win it.
On their opening drive of the second half, Notre Dame stopped Pitt on third down, but a personal foul on Harrison Smith gave Pitt a first down and the drive continued.
"To be honest with you, I didn't exactly see what happened," Weis said. "The official came over and said, ‘Coach, it was blatant.' I'm taking him for his word."
Pitt's Oderick Turner had a 37-yard reception on a 4th-and-1 play that brought the ball inside the Notre Dame 4-yard line. LaRod Stephens-Howling hammered it home from four yards out to make the score 17-10 just four minutes into the second half.
After ending the first half with back-to-back touchdowns, the Notre Dame offense gained just seven yards on three third quarter-drives. After a Notre Dame punt, Pitt took over on their own 30-yard line with 4:31 left in the third.
The Panthers went on a 15-play, 70-yard drive that ate up 8:28 of game time and was capped with a one-yard scoring plunge by McCoy to tie the game 17-17 with 11:03 left in the game.
Notre Dame responded with a 12-play, 75-yard drive of its own that culminated in a six-yard scoring fade from Clausen to Tate that put the Irish back on top, 24-17 with 5:38 remaining.
"I think the game, the momentum was kind of flipping back toward them at the time," Weis said. "We regained our composure and went down and scored on a nice drive."
McCoy led the Panther offense for most of the day, but down a touchdown in the fourth quarter, Pitt needed Bostick to come up big and he did. Bostick hit T.J. Porter for a 37-yard completion that put Pitt in Notre Dame territory.
McCoy followed with rushes for 18 and four yards that brought the ball to the Irish 10-yard line. After missing passes to freshman Jonathan Baldwin on second and third down, Bostick hooked up with the rookie for a game-tying score on fourth down with 2:22 left in regulation.
"That was the extent of our passing game," Wannstedt said of the fade pass. "It was a game of fade routes. Jonathan Baldwin, you have to recognize him as a freshman. The guy is really maturing at a fast pace."
The Irish pushed the ball to midfield on their next possession, but failed to convert a 4th-and-1 and turned the ball over at the 50 with 32 seconds left in the fourth. David Bruton picked off a Bostick pass on second down to prevent the Panthers from reaching field goal range.
In McCoy, Pitt seemed to have an heading into overtime.
"The strategy was to try to let LeSean McCoy win the game for us," Wannstedt said. "We were going to try to be as limited as we possibly could throwing the ball, to be honest with you. Up here, on the road, with the noise and everything, let LeSean win it."
But the conservative approach almost backfired.
Pitt began the overtime with the ball and the two teams traded field goals for the first three sessions. Both squads had their chances and got inside the opponent's five, but no one could find the end zone. Walker converted kicks from 22, 26 and 48 yards while Lee made kicks of 22, 32 and 26 yards before his winner from 22.
"I never even thought about Connor not making it," Wannstedt said. "I think that's the type of confidence everybody has in him."
On the first play of the second overtime, Clausen overshot Floyd who was running wide open in the end zone.
"It surprised me a little bit that he was wide open," Clausen said. "I just overthrew him. I wish I could have that one back."
Weis said that his most important job now will be to keep his players' heads up.
"It's a trying time when you come off a disheartening loss," said Weis, who believes the next 24 to 48 hours are crucial. "You've got to bounce right back. Get treatment tomorrow and Monday morning come in and watch the tape, move on to Boston College."
Neither offense did much for the most part of the first half and at one point Pitt seemed ready to grab control, but the Panther offense fizzled and a pair of big plays in the final minutes of the half gave the Irish a grip on the game.
The Panthers had a 2nd-and-5 at Notre Dame's 26-yard line before McCoy was tackled for a 10-yard loss. Bostick tripped on his drop on third down and the Panthers had to punt.
Notre Dame faced a 3rd-and-12 when Clausen launched a deep ball to Tate. The ball was juggled by Tate and two defenders before landing in Tate's hands for an amazing 47-yard completion.
"I honestly just played it wrong. I should have caught it the first time," Tate said. "For some reason it bounced off the guy's head and I saw another guy about to catch it, so I just went to make sure he couldn't catch it. I caught it and got a few yards. I was just trying to break it up so that he wouldn't get it."
Clausen hit Floyd on an 18-yard touchdown three plays later to give the Irish a 10-3 lead with 1:27 left in the half.
Wannstedt decided against heading to the locker room down a touchdown and Bostick was picked off by Raeshon McNeil with less than a minute left in the half. McNeil returned the ball 43 yards before fumbling. Bruton recovered the fumble and Notre Dame had the ball at the Pitt 13-yard line 30 seconds before halftime.
One play after missing Floyd on a fade, Clausen connected with the freshman on a fade stop for a four-yard score that gave the Irish a 17-3 lead four seconds before the half.
Clausen finished the half 14 of 23 for 173 yards and two touchdowns. Floyd had seven catches for 81 yards and the two scores in the first half. Allen was Notre Dame's leading first-half rusher with 45 yards on seven carries.
McCoy gained 51 yards on 10 carries, but Bostick and Smith combined to complete four of nine passes for 28 yards.
The Irish received the opening kick and went on a 10-play, 62-yard drive and although it stalled at Pitt's 29, Walker converted a 39-yard field goal to give the Irish a 3-0 lead with 9:38 left in the first quarter.
Pitt went three-and-out on its first series and punted to the Irish, who took over at their own 31. After a first down, Notre Dame lined up to punt, but Eric Maust's kick was blocked by Andrew Taglianetti and recovered by Nate Nix at the Irish 20.
The Notre Dame defense held when Steve Quinn sacked Bostick on third down, but Lee's 35-yard field goal tied the game 3-3 with 5:58 left in the opening quarter.
Pitt did not gain a first down until its first drive of the second quarter, but moved the ball from its own 12 to the Irish 26 before McCoy and Bostick's losses.