BCS Busted: Irish fall apart in 4th in loss at Pitt

By: Associated Press Email
By: Associated Press Email

PITTSBURGH (AP) - Tommy Rees threw two costly interceptions in the 4th quarter as Notre Dame saw its BCS bowl game hopes busted with a 28-21 loss to Pitt Saturday night at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh.

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.

The 2nd setup James Conner's 2nd touchdown run with 9:36 remaining which proved to be the game winning touchdown.

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.

But a highly questionable call in the 2nd quarter turned the game in Pitt's direction. Notre Dame defensive end Stephon Tuitt was ejected for targeting when officials ruled he led 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.

Tuitt appeared to have led with his shoulder but intent wasn't taken into consideration when officials went by the letter of the law with their ruling that Notre Dame's top defensive player had to be ejected from the game.

"Tough loss but on to the next one with revenge for-real," Tuitt wrote on twitter after the game. "People are going to wish they never gave me that call... I promise that. GO IRISH."

Unfortunately for the Irish there isn't much left to play. The defeat drops ND to 7-3 and ends their 4-game winning streak. It also means their chances of making a BCS bowl are now gone.

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.

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 finish.

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