Pitt comes back to defeat Notre Dame, 28-21

By Nate Barnes | Sports Editor

A year and six days to the date of Pitt’s triple-overtime loss in South Bend, Ind., the Panthers finally gained a little bit of vengeance with a 28-21 comeback win over No. 23 Notre Dame at Heinz Field Saturday night.

Tom Savage threw for 243 yards and connected with Devin Street for two touchdowns, while tailback James Conner found the end zone twice with carries from short-distance. Ray Vinopal forced three turnovers–two interceptions and a fumble–while the offensive line allowed just one sack to put a stamp on a complete team win.

Pitt’s triumph marks the second year in a row that a Paul Chryst-coached team defeated a ranked opponent.

“I thought all units did a heck of a job and contributed,” Chryst said. “That’s what makes this one feel good.”

The Panthers entered with confidence, according to Conner, after an intense week of preparation that led  to a complete performance from the Panthers.

“Coach told us on Monday that we were going to win this game,” Conner said. “So everybody stepped up.”

Pitt struggled in the first half, and entered halftime facing a 14-7 deficit. The Panthers seemed destined to fall further behind as Notre Dame’s offense outpaced Pitt’s by nearly 100 yards, 243-to-165.

But the Panthers (5-4, 2-3 ACC) had no intention of handing over a winning decision to Notre Dame (7-3).

“The game’s not over until it’s over,” Street said. “That was the biggest word today, finish, and don’t wait.”

Out of halftime, after the teams traded punts, Conner and Isaac Bennett led Pitt’s offense to a 13-play, 69-yard drive which culminated with Conner’s first score of the game. Conner’s touchdown run from two yards out tied the contest at 14-all.

Notre Dame responded immediately when Tommy Rees play-faked on the first snap of the Fighting Irish’s next drive, and threw deep to T.J. Jones over the top after Jones burned Pitt corner K’Waun Williams for a 80-yard touchdown.

Rees’ touchdown re-established a lead for Notre Dame at 21-14. The lead was the last the Irish held Saturday.

Three plays later, Savage fired over the middle to Street who kept his feet away from a would-be tackler and sprinted down the sideline for a 63-yard touchdown. The scoring play was Street’s second of the night, and his sixth of the season.

“It was a great dial-up by coach Chryst and we just executed it,” Street said. “It was all about the dial-up.”

With the score tied 21-21 entering the third, Notre Dame appeared poised to retake the lead once again. On a second and goal from the Pitt 4, Rees scrambled to his right and tried to loft a pass to the end zone that was intercepted by Vinopal.

“I was kind of playing a zone in that half of the field,” Vinopal said. “I was able to get there and make the play.”

Pitt didn’t score on its next drive, so Vinopal one-upped his touchdown-saving play. After a rushing attempt, Rees threw downfield and was intercepted by Vinopal who returned the ball to the Notre Dame 5.

Three plays later, Conner scored the game-winning touchdown.

“To beat Notre Dame is a pretty big deal. and it’s awesome to see the seniors so happy and emotional after the game,” Vinopal said. “That’s what you play for.”