NCAA FOOTBALL: PITT 28, NOTRE DAME 21: Panthers upend Irish
PITTSBURGH — James Conner ran for two short touchdowns, including the go-ahead score with 9:36 remaining as Pittsburgh upset No. 24 Notre Dame 28-21 Saturday night.
Tom Savage passed for 243 yards and two scores to Devin Street as the Panthers (5-4) took advantage of some sloppy play by the Fighting Irish (7-3) to end Notre Dame’s four-game winning streak.
The Irish turned it over three times, including a pair of fourth-quarter interceptions by Tommy Rees. Rees completed 18 of 39 for 318 yards and two touchdowns but was picked off by Pitt’s Ray Vinopal on consecutive passes in the final quarter.
TJ Jones caught six passes for 149 yards and a touchdown and ran for another, but Notre Dame’s hopes for a Bowl Championship Series bowl bid vanished in a sloppy final 15 minutes.
The previous five meetings between the two schools had been decided by six points or less, including a triple-overtime escape by the Irish last year in South Bend that kept their perfect regular season alive.
The Panthers blew a 14-point fourth quarter lead and a short field goal in overtime that would have pulled off the upset.
This time, Pitt kept its composure and provided coach Paul Chryst with his first signature win since taking over nearly two years ago.
Of course, Rees did his part to help.
Notre Dame was driving for a go-ahead score early in the fourth quarter when Rees floated a pass to the back of the end zone that Vinopal leapt in front of to end the threat.
Pitt punted, but Rees gave it right back. He tried to go deep down the seam but overshot his receiver. The ball sailed into Vinopal’s hands and the safety returned it 45 yards to the Notre Dame 5. Two plays later Conner ran up the middle to put Pittsburgh in front to stay.
The Irish drove to the Pitt 38 on its final drive, but Rees’ fourth-down pass to DaVaris Daniels was knocked away by Panthers defensive back Anthony Gonzalez.
The Irish appeared to be in control when Rees hit Jones for an 80-yard touchdown to make it 21-14 with 3:29 left in the third quarter.
The Panthers responded immediately. Savage found Street for a 63-yard score to tie it at 21.
The Irish drove the length of the field but stumbled when Rees’ threw his first pick to Vinopal. Notre Dame never recovered, ending a streak of 10 straight victories in games decided by a touchdown or less.
The Irish took an early 7-0 lead when a fourth-down conversion in Pitt territory set up a 10-yard touchdown pass from Rees to Daniels, one of the better throws by Rees in windy conditions that made any pass more than a handful of yards downfield treacherous.
Pitt’s offense, which hasn’t been the same since Savage sustained a concussion in a win over Virginia on Sept. 28, sprang to life with some help from the Irish. Notre Dame defensive end Stephon Tuitt was ejected for targeting when officials ruled he lead with his helmet while going to tackle a scrambling Savage early in the second quarter. Eight plays later the game was tied when Savage found Street for a 3-yard score.
Notre Dame pushed back in front midway through the second quarter when a short punt by the Panthers gave the Irish the ball at the Pitt 39. Rees hit Ben Koyack with a 38-yard gain to the 1 and Jones eluded two Pitt defenders on third-and-goal to make it 14-7 at the half.
All it did was set the stage for yet another close finis