Sept. 24, 2011
PITTSBURGH (AP) - Notre Dame quarterback Tommy Rees shrugged off a miserable first three quarters to hit tight end Tyler Eifert for a 6-yard touchdown with less than 7 minutes to go and lift the Fighting Irish to a 15-12 win over Pittsburgh on Saturday.
Rees finished 24 of 41 for 216 yards, but was a perfect 8 for 8 on the game-winning drive as the Irish (2-2) won their second straight. Jonas Gray scored on a 79-yard touchdown run for Notre Dame, which overcame eight penalties and two costly turnovers.
It wasn't pretty. The Irish failed to muster any momentum for long stretches against the Panthers (2-2), but found enough to win their second straight following an 0-2 start.
Tino Sunseri threw for 165 yards and a score for Pitt (2-2), but was sacked twice on the Panthers' final drive to snuff out a late rally.
Pitt was looking to end an eventful week by giving coach Todd Graham his first signature win with the program and prove it wasn't distracted by the school's announcement that it's leaving the Big East for the ACC in three years.
The Panthers spent 45 minutes pushing the Irish around, shutting down Rees and keeping wide receiver Michael Floyd in check.
Yet when Notre Dame needed it, Rees found a way by consistently looking to Eifert.
The junior caught four passes on the game-deciding drive, including an 18-yard gain that gave Notre Dame a first down at the Pitt 9. He landed hard on the play but brushed off the trainers and immediately caught a 3-yard pass and followed it up by hauling in a laser from Rees, who split a pair of Pitt defenders and found Eifert just past the goal line.
Pitt drove to Notre Dame 40 before going backward.
Aaron Lynch sacked Rees on first down and Prince Shembo racked up Notre Dame's fifth and final sack on third down, setting the Panthers up with a fourth-and-26.
Sunseri's pass to Mike Shanahan was incomplete and Rees came on to lead the Irish to one more first down and run out the clock.
Ray Graham ran for 82 yards and added 43 yards receiving for Pitt.
Rees wasn't much better against the defense. Pitt sacked him twice and gave him little time to throw.
Floyd caught three passes on Notre Dame's first drive but managed just one the rest of the way. Eifert stepped in to finish with a career-high eight grabs for 75 yards.
Cierre Wood ran 23 times for 96 yards for Notre Dame but it was Gray who provided the big play. The senior sprinted 79 yards down the sideline in the second quarter for his first career score, the school's longest rush since Terrance Howard darted 80 yards against West Virginia in 2000.
It looked for the game's first 50 minutes that it wouldn't be enough to prevent Todd Graham from getting his second big win over the Irish in the last year.
Graham coached Tulsa to a 28-27 win in South Bend in 2010, a victory that helped bring him to Pitt. He's spent the last nine months trying to makeover the program. He preaches constantly about the virtue of speed and likes to call his style of play "high-octane football," but the Panthers used a decidedly low-grade approach to take the lead.
Pitt went backward on its first possession of the second half, punting after a sack and a false start. The Irish, however, roughed punter Matt Yoklic and the Panthers took advantage with a grinding 19-play drive that ended more than 8 minutes later with Sunseri finding tight end Hubie Graham for a 3-yard touchdown to put Pitt up 12-7.
For a while, it looked like it would be enough thanks to a Pitt defense that made life uncomfortable for Rees.
The sophomore, who took the starting job away from senior Dayne Crist three weeks ago, has teased the Irish much of the year, switching between flashes of brilliance and youthful mistakes.
The miscues were there once again. Rees fumbled in the second quarter to set up a Pitt field goal and threw an interception at Pitt's goal line to end another threat.
FOX Names Price and Henderson Midseason All-Americans
Johnson named ESPN.com Midseason All-American
LaSala Promoted to Associate A.D. for Football Administration
USA Today Lauds Ejuan Price and Quadree Henderson
More Midseason All-America Accolades for Pitt Football
Price and Henderson Named Sporting News Midseason All-Americans