BY NATALIE BIGLEY
The Pittsburgh-Notre Dame rivalry is a special sort of tradition. It’s not a bitter rivalry, but there is something unique about it.
In recent years, the games between these two teams have been relatively close, and they have been especially exciting when played at Notre Dame.
Saturday’s game was no different and it played out a lot like the 2008 game, which Pitt won 36-33 in triple overtime.
Except for the winning team.
Pitt (4-5) lost 29-26 in triple overtime to third-ranked Notre Dame (9-0). The Irish can now breathe a sigh of relief since their national championship hopes are still alive.
“There were 200-and-some plays in that game,” Pitt coach Paul Chryst said at Monday’s weekly press conference. “We had an opportunity to win that game and we didn’t. We made enough plays to make it a good game, but not enough to win the game.”
Pitt, which plays at Connecticut (3-6) Friday night, seemed in control before Notre Dame caught a couple late breaks.
Call it uncontrollable circumstances or the luck of the Irish, those breaks affected the game’s outcome.
Early in the fourth quarter, the Irish took a risk on fourth down inside Pitt territory when quarterback Everett Golson threw the ball downfield toward tight end Tyler Eifert, but the ball was knocked away by Pitt cornerback K’Waun Williams.
After this play a flag was thrown, indicating a pass interference call on Williams.
Williams’ appeared to defend the play cleanly, but the damage was already done.
The call resulted in a first-and-10 for Notre Dame. Even worse news for the Panthers, the Irish scored a touchdown on the next play, closing Pitt’s lead to 20-12.
But Chryst said that one call did not decide the outcome of Saturday’s game.
“There were a lot of big plays in that game,” he said. “It’s our job to find a way to win. If it’s a call that doesn’t go your way, you just have to overcome it and we just didn’t do that.”
But an additional missed penalty call by officials proved to be very lucrative for the Irish.
That happened in the game’s second overtime, when Pitt kicker Kevin Harper attempted a field goal. Before the kick, Notre Dame players Bennett Jackson and Chris Brown were both on the field wearing the same number (2). Players with identical numbers are not allowed on the field at the same time.
The officials missed this call, which would have given Pittsburgh a first-and-10 at the Irish 11-yard line.
Instead Harper missed the 33-yard field goal, pushing the game into a third overtime. And shortly after, the Irish won.
But Chryst did not put the blame on any particular player for the Panther’s loss.
“It’s a team game, every one of those plays impacted that game,” Chryst said. “Guys know that. Everyone knows that there are some significant plays some, more than others. But I don’t know if one play of the game is ever the difference.
“A lot of guys did stuff for us to win that game and all of us did stuff that lead to us not winning that game. It doesn’t fall on one guy.”
Despite the loss, Chryst was pleased with the effort.
“You can grow as a team, and, as a player, you always want to play your best,” Chryst said. “No one else should define your best. You’re always striving to get to that level. You want to take advantage of every opportunity. Only the individual knows if they truly laid it on the line.”