Panthers Can't Hold On

Pitt's 14-point fourth quarter lead evaporates in final four minutes of game; results in eventual triple-overtime loss.

In hindsight, it was a back-and-forth game. Notre Dame wore down the Panthers early. Pitt came back and actually put some touchdowns on the board. The Panthers could not hold the lead, as Notre Dame staged a furious fourth quarter comeback to send the game to overtime, prevailing 29-26 in three overtimes.

Ray Graham had by far his most productive outing of the season, topping his 180-yard output of total offense from last week. The senior running back rushed for 172 yards, and led Pitt with 6 receptions for 25 yards; good enough for 197 yards of total offense.

Despite allowing the Irish to come back, Pitt saw a number of key players on defense step up. Joe Trebitz led the team with 13 tackles in his first career start. K'Waun Williams and Eric Williams came up with interceptions, Jarred Holley with a fumble recovery. Tyrone Ezell and Khaynin Mosley-Smith each had two quarterback hurries. As a whole, Pitt forced three turnovers, while committing none of its own. Yet, they could not hold off a furious Notre Dame comeback.

Despite the Irish looking impressive at wearing down Pitt on its first series, the Panther defense held once the Irish got to the Pitt 20. Notre Dame ate up some serious clock--nearly half the first quarter--with the 14-play, 60-yard drive. The Irish converted 2-of-3 third downs-the biggest key. That and the fact Pitt wasn't getting any pressure up front. That was until the Irish hit the Pitt 20.

A miscommunication on the first down passing play at the Pitt 20 allowed the Panther defensesome extra time to get pressure on quarterback Everett Golson, who had to throw the ball away. Then came a false start penalty. Bryan Murphy came up with a big hurry on third down, batting down the intended pass in the process. Notre Dame had to settle for a 37-yard field goal from Kyle Brindza, but still took the early 3-0 lead.

Pitt was able to answer. Despite a personal foul against Pitt on the ensuing kickoff, Ray Graham started things off in a big way with a 55-yard run on Pitt's first offensive play of the game. It would be the only highlight for Pitt on the opening drive, however. The only first down Pitt was able to get was thanks to a defensive pass interference penalty. Tino Sunseri was sacked on the next third down attempt. Still, Kevin Harper was able to tie the score for Pitt at 3-3 with 5:00 left in the first quarter.

Just like Pitt's kickoff return, the Irish committed a penalty on the ensuing return--a holding penalty. A little bit of a help for the Panther defense which was on the field for a total of six and a half minutes on the opening series. They could not take advantage of it, as the Irish answered with a nine and a half minute drive. Luckily, though, the Pitt defense somehow came up with a goal line stand after being on the field for so long. Theo Riddick initially scored on a 2-yard touchdown run. Paul Chryst challenged the ruling, which was reversed in favor of Pitt. Riddick was ruled down at the 1.

After the play was overturned, Pitt linebacker Emanuel Rackard tried to come off the field, as it looked like he was being bothered by cramps. He fell to the ground as he tried sprinting to the sideline. The officials called timeout. In Rackard's place came Shane Gordon. Gordon broke through untouched on the very next play, dropping Riddick for a loss of four. The Pitt defense had been out on the field for more than half a quarter, yet they somehow were able to keep the Irish offense out of the end zone. Brindza gave the Irish a 6-3 lead with a 20-yard field goal, but the Panther defense no doubt picked up some much needed confidence.

Unfortunately, the offense couldn't answer, or even buy the defense some more time. They punted after five plays. Matt Yoklic's punt went to the Notre Dame 15. With the turnaround (after the fair catch), Notre Dame took over at its own 16.

Pitt showed that it added some confidence, finally forcing a three-and-out. After the punt, Pitt took over at its own 42 yard-line. The end result of that drive would be the first touchdown of the game for either team--a 16-yard run by Graham, who bowled over defensive back Matthias Farley on the way to the end zone. Working with somewhat of a shorter field, the offense got rolling thanks to a Sunseri completion to Graham on a screen. That got the Panthers across midfield. After consecutive completions to Devin Street over the middle--an 18-yarder and a 10-yarder--Graham punched it in.

Chryst even took a gutsy call with under a minute to play, facing a 4th-and-1 at midfield, he went for it. Strangely, right tackle Matt Rotheram moved over as an eligible receiver at tight end on the left side. J.P. Holtz slid in at Rotheram's right tackle spot. The play called was for a run up the middle by Graham, a play the Irish was ready for.

Tommy Rees led the Irish to the Pitt 26, but unfortunately Brindza missed a 43-yard field goal. Reese entered the game on the last play of the previous series, after starting quarterback Everett Golson left the game in the first half after his helmet came off during the play. Rees remained in the game on that missed field goal drive. He remained in the game until Eric Williams stepped in front of an intended pass in the third quarter and picked it off.

Three plays later--an incompletion, a 43-yard completion from Sunseri to freshman tight end J.P. Holtz, and then a 9-yard touchdown pass from Susneri to Holtz--Pitt took a 17-6 lead with 5:52 left in the third quarter. The Irish had only allowed 17 points one other times this season; Week Two against Purdue.

Golson re-entered the game following the Rees interception. Unfortunately, the Irish went three-and-out highlighted by a series of plays from several players who have been battling for a spot on the field. Khaynin Mosley-Smith had a couple hurries in the game,both on third down and both that netted Notre Dame incompletions. Andrew Taglianetti stepped in with a big tackle on Riddick for no gain. He then helped break up a pass on third down forcing Notre Dame to punt. On the ensuing punt, Ray Vinopal threw a big block on the return that sprung Cameron Saddler free. Taglianetti also came free on the rush, nearly blocking the punt. Saddler returned the ball 31 yards--a new career-long for him.

The bottom line was several players in this game, not just making the most of their opportunity, but making big plays. The big plays by Graham set the bar for others to follow. Then, in other cases, several big plays leading up to another big run for Graham. That was the case at this juncture of the game as Graham ripped off a 48-yard run to get Pitt inside the 10. Though Pitt was not able to net another touchdown, a field goal did extend their lead to 20-6. Pitt looked in control.

Notre Dame did get on the board in the fourth quarter with a touchdown. Despite an initial fumble by DeVaris Daniels earlier in the series--forced by Todd Thomas, recovered by Eric Williams--the Irish scored a few plays later. Daniels' knee was ruled down, well-before the ball was jarred loose. T.J. Jones caught an 11-yard touchdown pass from Golson. Brindza missed the extra point, which kept Pitt ahead at 20-12.

Pitt was forced to punt on its next series. They did get a nice effort from Brendon Felder, who downed the ball at the Notre Dame 2. Downing a punt deep inside the opponent's territory should be a good thing, right?

The result, another extended drive for the Notre Dame offense. The Irish marched 92 yards in 15 plays. However, Golson chucked the ball away, as he was picked off in the end zone by K'Waun Williams.

Pitt took over at its own 20 with 3:59 left. Inexplicably, the Panthers called for threepassing plays. The result w two incompletions and a sack. Pitt punted the ball back to the Irish, giving them 3:09 to at least get a touchdown, perhaps tie it up. The Irish did that in all of two plays, knocking just 52 seconds off the clock. Golson--coming off the interception--had excellent protection. He found Daniels again, this time for a gain of 45 yards to the Pitt five. Golson threw to a diving Riddick on the next play, making it a 20-18 game. On the two-point conversion, Golson again had all the pass protection he could have asked for. He rolled right, then found an open patch of green and took it in for the tying score.

Pitt's offense continued its inability to do anything. Another incompletion, another sack. Graham then took it for a seven-yard gain to at least keep the clock running. Pitt punted back to Notre Dame, giving the Irish perhaps one more shot.

After giving up two scores, the Panther defense held. Golson was sacked on the first play of the next series. Pitt called timeout. Cierre Wood then rushed for a gain of 11, which was followed by an incompletion. The Irish punted back to the Panthers, who again ran just three plays. Time expired, with the teams tied up at 20-20. It marked the third Irish overtime game this season; the third overtime game between these two teams in the previous four meetings in South Bend.

Pitt started first. Its first series was marred by a comedy's of errors--a botched snap, a defensive delay of game, and a false start. Kevin Harper kicked a 41-yard field goal to put Pitt up 23-20.

Notre Dame seemingly went ahead on the first drive of the second overtime. Wood appeared to have crossed the goal line, but fumbled as he crossed the goal line. Jarred Holley recovered the ball, and Pitt took over with a chance to close the door.

With a chance to take it home, after three plays, Harper came on for a 33-yard field goal. He had made his previous seven field goals, but missed this one, sending it to a third overtime.

Pitt started on offense on the third series. The Pitt offense failed once again to move the ball on each of its three plays. Harper came on for a longer 44-yard attempt, and nailed it, putting Pitt back up 26-23.

Notre Dame and the ball with the chance to put the game away, and they did. Golson took it in from a yard out, giving Notre Dame the win.

Notre Dame improves to 9-0, while Pitt drops to 4-5 on the year. The Panthers return to action Friday night at UConn.

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