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11/03/2012 9:35 PM EDT
Golson leads No. 4 ND to 29-26, 3OT win over Pitt
NOTRE DAME 29, PITTSBURGH 26

By TOM COYNE
Associated Press

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) -- Down 20-6 in the fourth quarter, Notre
Dame was going to need some big plays and a little luck to stay
undefeated and keep its national title hopes alive.



It got just enough of both.



Everett Golson scored on a quarterback sneak in the third
overtime and the fourth-ranked Fighting Irish came back from a
14-point deficit Saturday to beat Pittsburgh 29-26.



"We overcame a lot tonight. We overcame some uncharacteristic
mistakes," coach Brian Kelly said. "Last year that would have
been a loss. But our team kept fighting, kept playing."



Notre Dame (9-0) is off to its best start since 1993, when it
finished the season ranked No. 2. Pitt (4-5) missed a potential
game-winning field goal in overtime.



Kelly pulled Golson late in the second quarter because he was
missing reads and progressions. But the coach put Golson back in
after backup Tommy Rees threw an interception and the Irish fell
behind by two touchdowns.



"Our quarterback needed to be out there mobile, make some plays
outside the pocket - asked him if he was ready to go, he said he
was and we put him back in," Kelly said.



Golson threw an 11-yard touchdown pass early in the fourth
quarter as Notre Dame cut Pitt's lead to 20-12. Notre Dame's
chances for a comeback appeared to end when Pitt cornerback
K'Waun Williams intercepted a pass by Golson in the end zone.



But the Irish defense held, and Golson completed a 45-yard pass
to DaVaris Daniels at the Pitt 5. Golson then threw a 5-yard
touchdown pass to Theo Riddick and ran in for the two-point
conversion to tie the game.



Kelly gave the game ball to Golson.



"I think I did a great job of leading the team coming down the
stretch. Coming out today we came out a little flat. As far as
me personally, I missed a couple reads I should have had.
Instead of putting three points on the board you put six,"
Golson said. "But I feel like in the stretch we really came
together."



Notre Dame avoided the fate of the 2002 team, the last Irish
team to start a season 8-0, which was upset by Boston College
14-7. But just barely. A victory seemed unlikely when they fell
behind 20-6 late in the third quarter, again when Williams
intercepted Golson's pass in the end zone and yet again when
running back Cierre Wood fumbled as he attempted to dive into
the end zone in the second overtime and Pitt safety Jarred
Holley recovered.



But the Irish kept finding life, the last time when Kevin Harper
missed a 33-yard field goal wide right following Wood's fumble.



"We missed a field goal, that's why we lost the game," Pitt
quarterback Tino Sunseri said. "It came down to a special teams
play, we didn't make the play. Give credit to Notre Dame for
being able to finish it off."



Golson was 23 of 42 passing for 227 yards and rushed for 74
yards as well, as he kept the Pitt defense off balance. The
Irish needed his big plays to overcome a stellar performance
from Pitt's Ray Graham, who rushing for 172 yards, including
runs of 55 and 48 yards.



Graham continually ran through Notre Dame tackles and the
Panthers opened a lead by taking advantage of Irish mistakes.



Graham, one of three Pitt players allowed to play despite facing
misdemeanor charges, gave the Panthers a 10-6 lead when he ran
past an attempted tackle by Notre Dame safety Matthias Farley
and sprinted along the sideline for the score. It was just the
second rushing touchdown allowed by the Irish defense this
season.



The Panthers were hoping to follow in the footsteps of the 2007
Pitt team, which was 4-7 when it won 13-9 at No. 2 West Virginia
on Dec. 1 to knock the Mountaineers out of the national
championship game. But this time they just couldn't find a way
to hold on.



All five Notre Dame home games this season have been decided by
a touchdown or less, while the four games away from Notre Dame
have been decided by an average margin of 28 points.



Kelly had urged his team to play better at home, but they
continued to make mistakes. He told the Irish they had to play
better against Boston College, Wake Forest and Southern
California.



"I told them that they have to understand that everybody they
play against will play their absolute best. Next week BC will
play out of their minds against us. Wake Forest will. They can't
just highlight certain teams on their schedule because they will
play their best," he said. "I think that's a lesson learned."



Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o said he was just relieved the
Irish won.



"It was ugly at times, beautiful at times. It's college
football," he said. "I'm just glad the outcome was the way it
was."

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