Irish need triple OT to remain undefeated

Published 1:10 pm Sunday, November 4, 2012

Notre Dame's Everett Golson dives into the end zone for the game-tying 2-point conversion against Pittsburgh Saturday. (Leader photo/JOSEPH WEISER)

NOTRE DAME – For the first time in 19 years the No. 3-ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish are 9-0.

It wasn’t pretty, and it took three overtimes, but the Irish found a way to battle back from a 20-6 fourth quarter deficit to knock of the Pittsburgh Panthers (4-5) 29-23.

The Irish controlled the ball for nearly 16 minutes on their first two possessions of the game, but could not get into the end zone and only had two field goals to show for it.

While the Panthers capitalized on big plays from running back Ray Graham, including a 16-yard touchdown run to take the 10-6 lead to halftime.

Graham, who was one of three Pitt players facing possible suspension from an assault charge over an incident last month at Pittsburgh, ran wild on the highly touted Irish defense and Heisman Trophy candidate Manti Te’o. Graham carried the load for the Panthers with 177 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries.

The Irish were led offensively by redshirt freshmen quarterback Everett Golson who had 227 yards passing, 88 yards rushing and three touchdowns including the game-winner in the third overtime.

Pittsburgh's K'Waun Williams (2) was called for pass interference as he knocked the ball away from Notre Dame's Tyler Eifert. (Leader photo/AMELIO RODRIGUEZ)

Trailing 20-6, Golson connected with T.J. Jones on an 11-yard touchdown pass, but kicker Kyle Brindza missed the extra point making the score 20-12 early in the fourth period.

The Irish defense stiffened and forced the Panthers to punt.  Pitt punter Matt Yoklic pinned Notre Dame deep in its own end dropping the punt down at the 2-yard line.

Golson would lead the Irish 91 yards before throwing an interception in the end zone bringing an end to the potential scoring drive.

Once again the Irish defense would be called upon to step up, and that they did forcing the Panthers into a three and out, but this time Yoklic wasn’t as fortunate as his punt was downed at the 50-yard line giving the Irish excellent field position and 3:03 on the clock.

On the first play from scrimmage Golson connected with DaVaris Daniels for 45 yards giving the Irish a first-and-goal at the 5-yard line. On the very next play, Golson found Theo Riddick in the back corner of the end zone for the touchdown bringing the Irish within two, 20-18.

The tying 2-point conversion was successful as Golson called his own number diving in to tie the game at 20, forcing overtime.

In the first overtime, Kevin Harper gave the Panthers the lead 23-20 connecting from 41-yards away, but Brindza would answer with a 37-yarder of his own tying the game 23-23 forcing a second overtime.

In the second overtime, Irish running back Cierre Wood was trying to get to the goal line when he fumbled the ball at the 1-yard into the end zone where the Panthers recovered it for a touchback.

Only needing a field goal to win the game the Panthers offense went back to Graham to try and seal the upset. After three consecutive Graham carries the Panthers found themselves facing a fourth-and-one on the Irish 16-yard line. A bad snap changed the timing for Harper whose potential game-winning field goal sailed just right of the upright forcing a third overtime.

In the third extra period, after the Pitt offense went backwards, Harper connected from 44-yards giving the Panthers the 26-23 lead setting up Golson to be the hero.

After a couple of first downs gave the Irish a first-and-goal at the 1-yard line, Golson called his own number once again diving in from a yard out, giving the Irish the 29-26 victory and keeping their undefeated season in tact, as well as their hopes of a National Championship.

The Irish have improved to 9-0 for the first time since 1993 and will travel to Boston College next weekend.

The last time the Irish were 9-0 they lost to Boston College 14-7 and lost a chance at the National Championship.