Irish punch ticket to College Cup in thriller

Published: Dec. 4, 2021 at 10:29 PM EST
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- The No. 4-seed Fighting Irish are College Cup bound after advancing past No. 5-seed Pittsburgh in penalty kicks (4-2) on Saturday night in front of a packed crowd at Alumni Stadium.

Notre Dame will head to Cary, N.C. for the program’s second College Cup appearance in the past eight seasons, and first for head coach Chad Riley.

Goalkeeper Bryan Dowd produced the heroics, making two saves in the shootout to send the Irish to the semifinals.

The Irish goal was scored in the 67th minute, as an Ethan O’Brien free kick was headed in by Paddy Burns to level the game at 1-1.

Notre Dame will play the winner of Oregon State and Clemson, a match that is played later on Saturday evening. The two semifinal matches will take place at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, North Carolina on Friday, Dec. 10 at 6 p.m. ET and 8:30 p.m. ET and will air on ESPNU.


The Irish were on the front in the opening stages of play, asking questions early and putting pressure on the Pitt defense. However, it was the Panthers who struck first, scoring the opener in the 25th minute to take a 1-0 lead. The goal came when an errant Pitt shot that was redirected in from Guilherme Feitosa.

Notre Dame pushed for the equalizer for the rest of the first half but were unable to find the back of the net, as they trailed 1-0 at the halftime intermission.

Ben Giacobello nearly found Lynn with a dangerous cross but it just went over Lynn’s head in the 51st minute.

Fifteen minutes later the Irish leveled the score at 1-1, sending the Alumni Stadium crowd into a frenzy. Burns earned a free kick on the left flank in the attacking third. O’Brien served in a delicious ball and Burns jumped, spun in air, and glanced his header to beat the Pitt keeper.

Notre Dame nearly found the winner towards the end of regulation but the match headed to overtime.

The Irish had a golden chance in the first overtime session, as Dawson McCartney fired a shot on target but the Panthers’ keeper made a diving stop to keep the visitor’s season alive. No team was able to break the deadlock in the second overtime, sending the match to penalties to decide which side would advance to Cary, North Carolina.

Notre Dame scored all four of its attempts, as Jack Lynn, Burns, McCartney and Philip Quinton converted from the spot. Pitt was successful on its first two attempts before Dowd made back-to-back saves to send the Irish to the College Cup with a 4-2 shootout win.


On the performance…

“I’m so proud of the team and so happy for them. Nights like this aren’t about the coaches as we talked to the players before the game. It was their night. Like they have done so many times they stepped up and put in an unbelievable performance. You just knew they weren’t going to be denied tonight. We played well but didn’t get the winning goal in regulation or OT but they are confident in penalties and knew how to finish the job.”

On fighting back after trailing for the first time in the tournament…

“I think we knew that would be the response but we hadn’t had that moment in tournament play yet so we knew it would be an important moment for us and I think they really excelled. There was no panic at halftime and they refocused. They turned up the volume in the second half and we were all over [Pitt].”

On the team’s ability to win shootouts…

“I don’t know, they just have that belief. They have prepared well. I give them a lot of credit in their preparation, they take it very seriously and do a great job and have that belief.”

On the crowd and atmosphere at Alumni Stadium…

“It means so much. I want to thank all the students and community for coming out to the game. I honestly don’t know if I have coached or played in front of a better, more vocal, crowd that was supporting our team tonight and I know it meant a huge deal. I can’t thank everyone enough for coming out, especially the students. It is a busy time and they came out and supported their classmates and it means the world to them.”


  • The Irish improve to 22-20-3 in NCAA Tournament matches in program history.
  • Notre Dame is now 21-7-3 against Pitt in the all-time matchup, winning all three matches this season.
  • The Irish advance to the NCAA College Cup for the second time in program history and first time in Riley’s career.
  • Notre Dame has allowed just one goal over the last seven matches, all coming in NCAA or ACC tournament play.
  • The Irish defensive scoreless streak ended at 650 minutes of match play, the longest stretch since the program joined a conference during the 1988 season.
  • Notre Dame hasn’t allowed a goal in the second half of a game since Virginia scored in the last minute of a Notre Dame 2-1 victory on Oct. 1.
  • Burns’ goal was the sophomores third of the season and second of the NCAA Championships.
  • Dowd has allowed just two of eight penalty attempts taken against him this season to be converted, making five saves.


The Irish travel to Cary, North Carolina, for the College Cup and will face the winner of the No. 1 Oregon State vs. No. 8 Clemson matchup that will be played later this evening. The NCAA semifinals will be played on Friday, Dec. 10 at 6 p.m. ET and 8:30 p.m. ET. Both matches will air on ESPNU.

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