The Fighting Irish of Notre Dame had an 8-0 record and a favorable record the rest of the season. All the Fighting Irish needed was to win out and they would likely be earning a trip to the National Championship game.
Unfortunately, no one told Pitt. The 4-4 Panthers came into South Bend on Saturday with upset on their minds and nearly took the No. 3 Fighting Irish out. Were it not for a late rally, Notre Dame would be on the outside looking in on their chance at a title.
Fighting back from a 14-point deficit, the Fighting Irish won on quarterback Everett Golson’s keeper in the third overtime, beating Pittsburgh 29-26.
The Fighting Irish (No. 3 BCS, No. 4 AP) trailed by 14 points late, but came back with two late scores to send the game to overtime.
It wasn’t the prettiest game for Notre Dame, but it was still a win, ESPN noted.
“We overcame a lot tonight. We overcame some uncharacteristic mistakes,” coach Brian Kelly said. “Last year that would have been a loss. But our team kept fighting, kept playing.”
At 9-0, Notre Dame is now off to its best start since 1993, when it finished the season ranked second in the nation.
It was a game of almosts for Pittsburgh. Leading 20-6 late in the game, Notre Dame cut the lead to 20-12 with an 11-yard touchdown pass as the fourth quarter began. But the Fighting Irish missed the extra point, giving Pitt crucial space on the scoreboard.
Later, Pitt cornerback K’Waun Williams intercepted a pass by Golson in the endzone, but the defense held for the Fighting Irish. Notre Dame then scored on a 5-yard touchdown pass, with Golson running in the two-point conversion to tie the game.
Pittsburgh had another chance to bury the Fighting Irish in overtime, but missed what would have been a game-winning field goal.
AsESPN writer Matt Fortuna notes, Notre Dame will likely look back at the Pitt game with a sigh of relief:
“If the Irish are going to do what more and more are starting to believe they can — improbably run the table, validate the third-year coach stigma and somehow sneak into the national title game — they will count their lucky stars when looking back at what was anything but a Picasso.”
But the Fighting Irish have come a long way in just one season, Fortuna writes. In 2011 Notre Dame would have found a way to lose a close game like Saturday’s, while this year’s team has kept finding ways to win.