The luck of the Irish nearly ran out on Saturday with No. 3 Notre Dame squeaking by the Pittsburgh Panthers in triple overtime, 29-26.
The Irish ended the game by answering Kevin Harper's field goal that gave Pittsburgh a 26-23 lead with Everett Golson's third total touchdown of the day.
Check out the photo courtesy of Bleacher Report's Twitter:
Everett Golson sneaks in for the game-winning touchdown in triple overtime. Notre Dame 29 - Pittsburgh 26 twitter.com/BleacherReport…— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) November 3, 2012
After Notre Dame fell behind by two touchdowns in the second half, Golson drove his team deep into Panthers territory. However, a 91-yard drive came to an abrupt halt when Golson threw a devastating interception in the end zone with around four minutes remaining.
But Golson wouldn't be denied. After Pitt went three-and-out on the ensuing drive, Golson drove Notre Dame 50 yards in two plays and hit Theo Riddick for a five-yard touchdown. Then he ran in the game-tying two-point conversion to knot the score at 20-20.
The teams traded fruitless drives in the final few minutes of regulation, setting up overtime in South Bend.
Harper hit a 41-yard field goal on Pittsburgh's first possession of overtime, putting the pressure on Notre Dame. Despite an ugly boot, Kyle Brindza was able to tie the game at 23 with a field goal of his own.
On Notre Dame's possession in the second overtime, with the ball inside the 5-yard line, it appeared poised to score a touchdown. However, Cierre Wood coughed the ball up as he dove for the end zone, and the Panthers recovered and took over with a chance to win the game.
In an ideal world for Pittsburgh fans, the game would have ended there. Instead, Harper missed the 33-yard game-winning try, giving Notre Dame new life.
The game had an eerie feeling from the get-go. Brindza was able to give Notre Dame the early lead with a 37-yard field goal.
Harper answered with a 39-yard kick of his own, knotting the score at three apiece. That field goal was set up by Ray Graham's first big run of the game. He pulled away for 55 yards, putting his team in position and leaving Irish defenders in the dust.
Brindza's second field goal of the day gave the Irish a 6-3 lead, but Graham was able to make another big play with just under four minutes remaining in the first half. His 16-yard touchdown scamper put Pittsburgh up 10-6 at the half, and according to ESPN Stats & Info, he's the first running back to score a rushing touchdown on Notre Dame this season.
This set up all kinds of interesting points on Twitter. John Heisler, Notre Dame's senior associate athletics director for media and broadcast relations, mentioned Notre Dame's struggles in recent first halves:
This marks third time in last four games Irish have trailed at half (also 10-3 vs. Stanford and 14-7 vs. BYU).— John Heisler (@NDHeisler) November 3, 2012
Heisler also mentioned how the team usually rebounds:
In previous two games ND trailed at half (Stanford and BYU) Irish defense allowed a combined 3 second-half points.— John Heisler (@NDHeisler) November 3, 2012
Chicago Tribune reporter Brian Hamilton also alluded to why the Irish may have struggled in the first two quarters:
Not to belabor this, but: #NotreDame LB Manti Te'o, one tackle at halftime.— Brian Hamilton (@ChiTribHamilton) November 3, 2012
The second half was really no different. Pitt quarterback Tino Sunseri was able to find J.P Holtz for a touchdown to give his team an 11-point lead, putting more pressure on Notre Dame's offense than it had seen all season long.
Tommy Rees took over for Golson to start the half, but he couldn't jump-start the attack. He went 6-of-11, but he also threw a crucial interception. That interception led to another Harper field goal, giving Pitt an even 14-point lead.
The Irish were able to kick things into gear on their next drive, scoring on a 71-yard possession. Golson eventually hit T.J. Jones for a red-zone touchdown, but it didn't come without controversy. A questionable (bogus) pass interference call gave the Irish new life, and that was after a Panthers fumble recovery was correctly overturned earlier in the drive.
After the Jones touchdown, Notre Dame maintained momentum. Pitt's offense struggled to gain yardage, and Golson's legs started to make the difference offensively. A few huge third-down conversions got the Irish in position to score, but Golson's interception halted the 91-yard drive.
Golson came of age on Saturday, going 23-of-42 passing and running for 74 yards and the game-winning score. Whether it be big throws or incredible displays of athleticism with his legs, Golson was excellent overall.
Graham ran for 172 yards and one touchdown, averaging 7.2 yards per carry. Sunseri's efficient 19-of-29 game made a big difference, but the Panthers also had a mental edge. For facing a heavy favorite in its house, Pitt showed no fear. The Panthers weren't able to pull the shocker, but it certainly wasn't for lack of effort.
Pitt gave a superhuman effort, but the Irish were too much. Te'o and the defense came alive in the fourth quarter, Golson showcased why Irish fans drool over his athleticism and the Panthers finally crashed down the earth at the end of regulation. Overtime was competitive, but underdogs need to take care of business early in games like this.
Pittsburgh had its chances, but Notre Dame's magical season continues. At 9-0, BCS national championship hopes are still alive.
Notre Dame will try to move to 10-0 against Boston College next Saturday, while Pittsburgh travels to face Connecticut on Friday night.