football Edit

A new kind of frustration for Pitt after close loss to Notre Dame

MORE FROM THE GAME - Pitt loses to No. 5 Notre Dame | Narduzzi on the loss: "Just disappointing" | Postgame video: Pat Narduzzi | Postgame video: Kenny Pickett | Postgame video: Rashad Weaver | Postgame video: Maurice Ffrench | Postgame video: Jason Pinnock

SOUTH BEND, Ind. - The postgame feeling after Pitt fell to Notre Dame 19-14 on Saturday afternoon was a new one for this season.

This wasn’t the embarrassment of the Penn State game or the feeling of being a level below Central Florida. And this wasn’t the predictable agony of losing to North Carolina yet again.

This was something different. Pitt had taken the No. 5 team in the country all the way to the wire, leading for the bulk of the game and never trailing until the final six minutes, when Irish quarterback Ian Book finally found some cracks in a Pitt defense that had been, until that point, unbreakable.

The Panthers had a huge upset, one that would define the 2018 season, in their grasp. Instead, they went to the airport with a 3-4 record and another missed opportunity.

“It’s real different because it was close,” cornerback Jason Pinnock said. “It’s worse losing a game that you knew you should have won.”

“It’s absolutely frustrating,” sophomore quarterback Kenny Pickett said after the game. “I think you can hear it in my voice right now: it’s frustrating.”

In some respects, for Pitt to leave South Bend with a five-point loss is an upset in and of itself. The professionals installed Notre Dame as a three-touchdown favorite in the game, seemingly unimpressed by the Panthers’ win over Syracuse at Heinz Field last weekend and skeptical of how the team would match up with the undefeated Irish.

But Pitt walked into Notre Dame Stadium and did the things that a .500 team has to do to launch an upset bid. There were two interceptions, both when the Irish had the ball across the 50. There was a kickoff return for a touchdown to open the second half and put the pressure to score squarely on Notre Dame. There was a stand-up defensive performance to limit a potent offense.

The only thing missing was an effective performance from Pitt’s own offense, but that’s a season-long storyline that still has yet to find a positive resolution.

On the whole, though, Pitt came out of Saturday’s game looking far more formidable than it did after just about any other game this season, but that was of little consolation to the players who thought they were going to finish the deal on 2018’s signature win.

“It’s definitely something to build off of,” defensive end Rashad Weaver said, “but at the same time, we’re no slack of a team that this should have been a blowout or something like that. This is how the game should have been; we just didn’t finish it how we should have.”

“I feel bad for our kids in that locker room,” head coach Pat Narduzzi said. “They fought their tails off, played hard…just disappointing. I’m disappointed for them. Just not the way you want it to go. They fought their tails off and that’s it.”

Because Pitt was so close to beating a top team and fell short, there was a palpable feeling of anger as the players filed out the locker room and headed to the team bus. They’ll have some extra time to stew on the loss, as the Panthers are off this week before opening the final five-game stretch of the season at home against Duke in two weeks.

“That’s any loss,” Pinnock said of feeling angry after the game “but especially one this close, you know, it gives us a chip on our shoulder and something to fuel us for this bye week. We’re going to get after it.”