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November 4, 2012NOTRE DAME, Ind. - On more than one occasion Saturday, Pitt looked like it had No. 3 Notre Dame on the ropes.
After being caught in a tough defensive struggle that left the score 10-6 at halftime, the Panthers built their lead into 14 points with a touchdown and a field goal in the third quarter, and the 80,795 Notre Dame fans in attendance thought their top-ranked team was about to suffer its first loss of the 2012 season.
But that didn't happen. Instead, the Fighting Irish rattled off 14 unanswered points to force overtime, and they scored a touchdown in the third overtime period to send the Panthers back to Pittsburgh on the losing end of a 29-26 final score.
The anatomy of that collapse begins in the fourth quarter. After Notre Dame cut Pitt's 20-6 lead to 20-12, the Panthers chipped 3:43 off the clock and then cut off the home team's would-be scoring drive with an interception in the end zone. Pitt took the ball back with three minutes and 59 seconds left in the game, but a muffed pass, a bad snap, and a yardage-losing screen brought out the Pitt punt team after just 50 seconds had gone from the clock.
Notre Dame scored on its next drive to tie the game, and while Pitt got the ball for two more drives in regulation, the Panthers went three-and-out both times.
Pitt's final blown shot at winning came in the second overtime. Notre Dame took the ball first and drove to the 2, but Cierre Wood fumbled in the end zone and Jarred Holley recovered for the Panthers.
The table was set for Pitt to close things out, and after three rushes from senior running back Ray Graham that gained a total of nine yards, Kevin Harper lined up for a 33-yard field goal that would have been his fourth of the day and the game-winner. But the kick was wide right.
Harper connected from 44 yards on the next drive, but Notre Dame answered with a touchdown and the game was over.
"It's awful whenever you lose a game," redshirt senior quarterback Tino Sunseri said. "You want to knock off a top-five team in the country - and they are a great football team - we had opportunities and we let them slip. Whenever you have a top-five team like that on the ropes and you have a chance to end the game, you have to be able to take advantage of it. You have to be able to end the game and not give them any more chances."
The blown opportunities cost Pitt a win and overshadowed some good things the Panthers did on Saturday. Pitt forced three turnovers. Graham rushed for more yards than any team had all season. The offense made a handful of big plays.
The Panthers had their moments against Notre Dame, but they weren't enough to close the deal against the Irish.
"I thought we did some good things, guys threw it around, and we had opportunities and we didn't take advantage of them enough and that's what this game comes down to," head coach Paul Chryst said after the game.
Now Pitt (4-5, 1-3) has to regroup after having a would-be signature win pulled away at the very end.
"It's disappointing because we strained and worked hard the whole game," redshirt freshman cornerback Lafayette Pitts said. "To go down to the last minute and give up the win, it feels pretty bad."