NewsCenter 16 is counting down to the National Championship game by re-living each game of the 2012 Notre Dame Football Season. Each sportscast until the New Year, will look back at a game from the season with extended highlights, storylines and postgame reaction.
Sunday, we turned out attention to the game that almost got a way--Pittsburgh.
Notre Dame was coming off a huge win on the road at Oklahoma the week before to improve to 8-0. With games against Pitt, BC, and Wake on the horizon most Irish fans felt Notre Dame would cruise into a matchup with USC on Thanksgiving weekend with an undefeated regular season on the line.
But Pittsburgh had other ideas. The Panthers, just 4-4 on the season, more than put up a fight.
Down 20-6 in the fourth quarter, Notre Dame was going to need some big plays and a little luck to stay undefeated and keep its national title hopes alive.
It got just enough of both.
Pitt missed a 33-yard field goal that could have won it in the 2nd OT. Plus, the Irish had two players wearing #2 on the field at the same time--which should have been a penalty and automatic first down for the Panthers. No one ever saw it.
Everett Golson scored on a quarterback sneak in the third overtime and the Fighting Irish came back from a 14-point deficit to beat Pittsburgh 29-26.
Kelly pulled Golson late in the second quarter because he was missing reads and progressions. But the coach put Golson back in after backup Tommy Rees threw an interception and the Irish fell behind by two touchdowns.
"Our quarterback needed to be out there mobile, make some plays outside the pocket -- asked him if he was ready to go, he said he was and we put him back in," Kelly said.
Golson threw an 11-yard touchdown pass early in the fourth quarter as Notre Dame cut Pitt's lead to 20-12. Notre Dame's chances for a comeback appeared to end when Pitt cornerback K'Waun Williams intercepted a pass by Golson in the end zone.
But the Irish defense held, and Golson completed a 45-yard pass to DaVaris Daniels at the Pitt 5. Golson then threw a 5-yard touchdown pass to Theo Riddick and ran in for the two-point conversion to tie the game.
Kelly gave the game ball to Golson.
"I think I did a great job of leading the team coming down the stretch. Coming out today, we came out a little flat. As far as me personally, I missed a couple reads I should have had. Instead of putting three points on the board, you put six," Golson said. "But I feel like in the stretch we really came together."
Notre Dame avoided the fate of the 2002 team, the last Irish team to start a season 8-0, which was upset by Boston College 14-7. But just barely. A victory seemed unlikely when they fell behind 20-6 late in the third quarter, again when Williams intercepted Golson's pass in the end zone and yet again when running back Cierre Wood fumbled as he attempted to dive into the end zone in the second overtime and Pitt safety Jarred Holley recovered.
But the Irish kept finding life, the last time when Kevin Harper missed a 33-yard field goal wide right following Wood's fumble.
Kelly had urged his team to play better at home, but they continued to make mistakes. He told the Irish they had to play better against Boston College, Wake Forest and Southern California.
"I told them that they have to understand that everybody they play against will play their absolute best. Next week BC will play out of their minds against us. Wake Forest will. They can't just highlight certain teams on their schedule because they will play their best," he said. "I think that's a lesson learned."
Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o said he was just relieved the Irish won.
"It was ugly at times, beautiful at times. It's college football," he said. "I'm just glad the outcome was the way it was."
The win pushed the Irish to 9-0 but they remained on the outside looking in for the national title game.