By GREG KEIM
THE GOSHEN NEWS
SOUTH BEND —
This time it was Everett Golson, not Tommy Rees, who had to rescue the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and keep the team’s record unblemished.
Golson ran for a two-point conversion to tie the score at the end of regulation and for the game-winning touchdown in the third overtime as the Irish overcame a subpar effort to defeat Pittsburgh, 29-26, Saturday at Notre Dame Stadium, improving to 9-0 on the season.
“Pittsburgh played a great game and at a very high level,” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said. “We made some uncharacteristic mistakes like turning the ball over in the end zone, but our players kept playing and kept fighting.”
Golson was pulled after missing some reads in favor of Rees who has guided the Irish to wins this season in relief of Golson.
“Everett had missed a number of things that we felt at this point of the season he shouldn’t be,” Kelly said. “We came back to him and he found ways to put enough points on the board to win.”
Notre Dame trailed 10-6 at halftime and 20-6 entering the fourth quarter.
“One of the lessons I want the team to learn from this is that every team we play is going to give us their best effort,” Kelly said. “In the first half we had some plays that caused us not to put points up on the scoreboard. We missed a PAT, we missed a field goal and had an interception in the end zone.
“But I’m really proud of the guys and the way they found ways to win on a day when we didn’t play our best and Pittsburgh played a great game.”
“This is a tough one for us,” Pittsburgh head coach Paul Chryst said. “Notre Dame is a good team and they made more plays than we did.”
Things did not look good for the Irish when Golson threw an interception in the end zone, giving the ball back to Pittsburgh with 3:59 remaining. Notre Dame had taken over the ball at their own 2-yard line and Golson had driven the team 93 yards in 15 plays.
The Irish defense stiffened and force Pittsburgh to punt and Notre Dame got the ball back at midfield.
On the first play, Golson dropped back to pass and had all kinds of time to look for a receiver. He finally spotted sophomore DaVaris Daniels for a 45-yard completion to the P-5. On the next play, Golson connected on a 5-yard TD to senior Theo Riddick to pull the Irish to within two points at 20-18.
Golson then ran for the game-tying conversion.
“It’s a three-pronged play,” Kelly said about the conversion play. “The first is a sprint out, roll out man-to-man, rollover to (senior) Robby Toma. The second element is a clear out and delay for (senior) Tyler Eifert to come back, and the last was the quarterback to keep it.
“Everett picked the right one. I wasn’t going to pull him after that play.”
Both teams kicked field goals in the first overtime. Senior Kevin Harper of Pittsburgh booted one of 41 yards and ND sophomore Kyle Binndza one of 37 yards.
The Irish got the ball to begin the second overtime and drove to the P-1 before they fumbled the ball into the end zone and the Panthers recovered. Notre Dame then got a break one Pittsburgh’s possession when Harper missed a field goal from 33 yards that would have won the game.
Harper shook off the miss and connected from 44 yards in the third overtime to put his team up 26-23.
On Notre Dame’s possession, Golson completed an 11-yard pass to Riddick before runs of three and four yards by Riddick moved the ball to the P-7. Golson then rambled six yards to the one setting up his winning TD.
Kelly was asked about the decision to pull Rees and put Golson back in the game.
“I don’t know how to answer the question definitively,” the coach said. “I get a sense of feel on the sideline as to where to move with that. I went up to him when I thought we needed him back in the game because of the way the game was going, that we needed to be -- 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.”
Golson received the game ball for his efforts on Saturday.
“I give all the credit to God and my teammates,” he said. “Toma was just one of the players that came up to me in the second half and told me to keep my head in the game. A whole bunch of them did.
“I heard the crowd cheering and stuff like that, it was a good feeling.”
Golson completed 23-of-42 passes for 277 yards and two TDs. He also rushed for 88 yards on 15 carries.
Notre Dame gained a total of 522 total yards, 231 on the ground and 291 via the pass.
Pittsburgh had 308 total yards, 144 rushing and 164 passing.
Senior Ray Graham rushed for 172 yards on 24 carries to led the Panthers.
“Ray Graham broke tackles and we uncharacteristically missed tackles,” Kelly said. “He ran well, but we tackled subpar for our defense. But they found a way to shut him down in the second half.”
Riddick rushed for a team-high 89 yards on 22 carries for the Irish. Senior Cierre Wood chipped in with 75 on 13 attempts.
Daniels was the leading receiver with seven catches for 86 yards while Eifert had six for 62 and Toma six for 50.