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Memories of Pitt-Notre Dame

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Pitt and Notre Dame will meet for the 71st time in history on Saturday. The Fighting Irish lead the series 48-21-1 and have won four of the past five meetings over the Panthers.

While Pitt and Notre Dame aren’t necessarily bitter rivals, the two programs have a long and storied tradition against one another. The Panthers and Irish are also two of the oldest college football programs with Notre Dame’s first team taking the field in 1887, with Pitt joining them three years later in 1890.

Notre Dame is Pitt’s fourth-most common opponent in program history behind only West Virginia, Penn State, and Syracuse. Conversely, Pitt is Notre Dame’s fifth most common opponent in a series that dates back to 1909, a 6-0 Notre Dame victory at Forbes Field in Oakland.

Notre Dame boasts 11 claimed national championships, 102 consensus All-Americans, and 45 college football hall of famers. Pitt on the other hand claims nine national championships of it’s own, 51 consensus All-Americans, and 18 college football hall of famers. Given the history and success of both programs, there have been plenty of memorable meetings. Here is a look back at some of the more memorable games in the Pitt-Notre Dame series.

November 3, 2012
Notre Dame 29, Pitt 26 3OT
Notre Dame was in the midst of a dream season. The Fighting Irish entered the game 8-0 and ranked fourth in the country, while Pitt crawled into the game with a 4-4 record. After falling behind 6-3 in the early minutes of the second quarter, Pitt was able to score 17 unanswered to take a 20-6 lead entering the fourth quarter behind some tough running of senior running back Ray Graham.

Notre Dame’s Everett Golston engineered a miraculous fourth quarter comeback to push the game into overtime. Pitt fans to this day will still talk about an unfavorable pass interference call on K’waun Williams. In any event, Pitt had a chance to win the game following a fumble by Notre Dame in the second overtime. Pitt kicker Kevin Harper missed the potential winning field goal that pushed the game to a third overtime. Notre Dame scored a touchdown on it’s final possession to escape with a 29-26 victory to keep it's perfect season alive.

November 14, 2009
Pitt 27, Notre Dame 22
The Pitt football team looked to be "back" for the first time since the 1980’s. Pitt had risen to No. 8 in the AP poll following an 8-1 start to the season. Notre Dame was down a bit in 2009, but still brought a 6-3 record to the table which was good enough to make the showdown the Saturday night primetime game of the week. Pitt roared out to a 20-3 lead after three quarters thanks to some big plays by freshman running back Dion Lewis and junior wide receiver Jonathan Baldwin.

The Irish came firing back with Golden Tate returning a punt 44 yards for a touchdown to make it 27-22. The Pitt defense held off the storm from there and Pitt came out with the win, and a 9-1 record.

November 1, 2008
Pitt 36, Notre Dame 33 4OT
Following a surprising blowout loss to Rutgers, Pitt came into Notre Dame Stadium with a 5-2 record to face a Fighting Irish team that also owned a 5-2 record. The Panthers looked sluggish to start, falling behind Notre Dame 17-3 at halftime. Pitt then outscored the Irish 21-7 in the second half to force overtime, thanks to an impressive performance by sophomore tailback LeSean McCoy, who finished the day with 169 rushing yards and a touchdown.
It took four overtime periods to decide the game. Pitt kicker Connor Lee was 4-for-4 on his field goal attempts in overtime to take down Notre Dame 36-33 in the longest game in Notre Dame Stadium’s history.

November 13, 2004
Pitt 41, Notre Dame 38
Pitt and Notre Dame played in a shootout on this particular November day in South Bend. The two teams played to a 28-all tie through three quarters to set up a dramatic fourth quarter. Trailing 35-31 with 7:21 left in the game, Pitt quarterback Tyler Palko went to work. Palko took Pitt on a 13-play drive and found tight end Erik Gill for a nine yard score to make it 38-35 Panthers. It was the fifth touchdown pass of the day for Palko, making him the first opposing quarterback to ever throw for five touchdowns in Notre Dame Stadium in a single game.
Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn executed a strong two-minute drill of his own to grab Notre Dame a field goal and tie the game with 1:17 left. Palko had just enough time for some more magic. He got Pitt down into field position thanks to a 37-yard pass to Gill. Pitt kicker Josh Cummings hit a 32-yard field goal with six seconds on the clock to give Pitt the dramatic 41-38 win.

November 13, 1999
Pitt 37, Notre Dame 27
Notre Dame dominated Pitt throughout much of the 1990’s. Heading into the 1999 meeting, the Fighting Irish had won eight in a row against the Panthers. November 13, 1999 was a special night for Pitt football however, as the program was saying goodbye to historic Pitt Stadium. The stadium was the team’s home from 1925-1999, and 60,190 fans crammed in there for one last big game.

Pitt held off Notre Dame advances all night long. Anytime Notre Dame would make it close, Pitt would come up with a big play. With the Panthers clinging to a 30-27 lead late in the game, head coach Walt Harris opted to use some power running by Kevan Barlow. The Pittsburgh-native punched in a two-yard touchdown with 1:41 left to set the final at 37-27. Before the game technically finished, Pitt fans stormed the field.

October 10, 1987
Pitt 30, Notre Dame 22
Pitt welcomed No. 4 Notre Dame to Pitt Stadium in a sellout primetime game on October 10 in front of 56,400 fans. Pitt was just 3-2 coming into the game, but jumped all over Lou Holtz’s team with a 27-0 halftime lead. Craig “Ironhead” Heyward finished with 42 carries for 132 yards and a pair of one-yard touchdowns runs for Pitt. Notre Dame came back to nearly win the game, but Pitt held on for 30-22 victory. It was Pitt’s third-straight win over Notre Dame.

September 11, 1976
Pitt 31, Notre Dame 10
Pitt opened the 1976 season ranked No. 9 in the country and had an opening day showdown against No. 11 Notre Dame in South Bend. As the legend goes, Notre Dame Stadium’s grass was a little high in attempt to slow down Pitt senior running back Tony Dorsett. The length of the grass seemingly did not matter, Dorsett ripped off a 61-yard run on the first play of the game and Pitt rolled over the Irish 31-10 on the way to a national championship season.

November 15, 1975
Pitt 34, Notre Dame 20
56,480 fans packed into Pitt Stadium on a late November day to see No. 9 Notre Dame take on Pitt. The Fighting Irish had won 11 games in a row against Pitt, with the Panthers’ last win in the series coming in 1963. Russ Franke of the Pittsburgh Press wrote, “It was bound to happen sooner or later. Pitt was long overdue to pop Notre Dame, and yesterday the Panthers laid it on the Irish with a heavy shillelagh that had the name of Tony Dorsett stamped all over it.”

Pitt fed the ball to junior tailback Tony Dorsett, who finished with 303 rushing yards and 71 receiving yards against the Irish in a 34-20 Panthers’ win. Pitt moved to 7-3 on the year and accepted a bid to the Sun Bowl following the game.

October 24, 1936
Pitt 26, Notre Dame 0
Pitt welcomed an undefeated Notre Dame team to Pitt Stadium on October 24th. The Panthers were coming off a stunning upset loss to cross-town rival Duquesne 7-0 the week prior. Jock Sutherland’s team quickly erased that memory. Arthur J. Daley for the New York Times wrote, “The Panthers had everything and Notre Dame had nothing. Pitt ripped the Irish to shreds with its vicious running attack and so bottled up the South Bend offensive that the Irish were only in scoring territory once the entire game.”

The 1936 Pitt team featured the “Dream Backfield” of Dick Cassiano, John Chickerneo, Marshall Goldberg and Curly Stebbins. Pitt finished that year 8-1-1 with a Rose Bowl victory over Washington. Pitt claims that season as a national championship, and followed it up in 1937 with a second straight national title with a 9-0-1 record.